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Helping Clients Cope with Terrorism
their Shattered Assumptions
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Experience and Training
To further explain PTSD resulting from terrorism and other traumas, we have just
discussed four losses trauma survivors may face.
4 Losses Trauma Survivors May Face
1. Loss of their feeling
2. Loss of an orderly world.
3. Loss of a positive
4. Loss of trust.
let's look at the role that prior experience and training make in a predisposition
to PTSD resulting from terrorist attacks. Two factors that affect the individualized
response to the stressor of terrorism: first, life experiences before the incident,
and second, the behavioral response repertoire that the victim brings to it. As
I am outlining these, think about clients you are treating or have treated and
ask yourself if any fit into these categories.
2 Factors that Affect the Individualized
Response to the Stressor of Terrorism
♦ #1 - Life Experiences Before the Incident
The first factor is the role that
prior training plays. Some individuals, such as military or diplomatic personnel,
may have had prior training that enables them to mobilize a wide range of conscious
adaptive behaviors in addition to unconscious defense mechanisms that affect their
response to the stressor of terrorism. Presumably, they might have better adaptive
advantages in a terrorist situation compared with individuals who have had little
or no prior experience.
For example, one contributor to the relatively low level
of psychopathology manifested by the American hostages in Iran was their prior
experiences and training in the foreign service and military fields. Ask yourself,
are any of your current clients military or diplomatic personnel with training
♦ #2 - Personality Type
Secondly, personality type is another important factor which
determines coping behaviors. Studies of prisoners of war and concentration camp
survivors have shown that certain personality types adapt more successfully than
others under identical circumstances. As an example, Ford and Spaulding psychiatrically
evaluated the 82 surviving USS Pueblo crew members who were captured and imprisoned
in North Korea for 11 months in 1968. Those men who adapted poorly to the prolonged
stress were frequently evaluated as being passive-dependent, whereas those who
coped well with the stress most often had personality diagnoses of healthy or
As you know, the DSM defines the Schizoid Personality Disordered patient as being indifferent to the society of other people, sometimes profoundly so.
Typically, the Schizoid Personality Disordered patient is a lifelong loner who
shows a restricted emotional range; he or she appears unsociable, cold and seclusive.
Thus, your clients' prior training and personality type may determine greatly
the meaning of the stress of the experience for them. Ask yourself, which
one of my current or past clients would fare best in a hostile or hijack situation?
♦ 3 Self-Assumptions
the terrorists attack, we all had to reconsider at least three assumptions about
1. I am personally invulnerable; we as a nation in the United States
are invulnerable to terrorist attacks;
2. The world is orderly and meaningful,
and in an orderly world there are no attacks on U.S. soil; and
3. We are a
good and strong people. Thus, others will not attack us.
As a nation
we all had these basic assumptions shattered at a certain level in the same way
that direct victims of the attacks questioned these assumptions. The professional
code of ethics emphasizes self awareness...ask yourself where are you personally
regarding personal invulnerability, feeling the world is orderly, and that we
are a good and strong people not a target for an attack. To what extent has your
shattered assumptions affected your treatment of clients? Or has it affected your
treatment of clients?
What are three assumptions about ourselves that we as a nation have been
forced to reconsider? To select and enter your answer go to .