Helping Lift Heavy Hearts: Suggested Pathways to Healing after the Arapahoe High School Shooting

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written by Laura Hutchison, PsyD, LP, RPT/S

It is in the season of love, joy, and peace … but for the second year in a row we are faced with another violent tragedy at a place dedicated to children and learning.  My heart goes out to the faculty, staff, students, and surrounding community of Arapahoe High School.  And I send prayers and healing energy to Claire Davis and her family.

Pathways to Healing after the Arapahoe High School Shooting

As a psychologist, I would also like to share some ways that everyone in Centennial, Colorado and the surrounding areas can help each other process this terrifying event.  Here are some suggested pathways to healing after the Arapahoe High School Shooting …

  • TALK and TALK and TALK about it.  Being able to express your feelings and thoughts about what happened is essential in processing the experience.
  • In addition, find alternative ways to express your thoughts and feelings.  Some examples are playing, drawing, writing, painting, & sculpting. The combination of verbal and artistic expression (left and right brain activities) helps the brain re-wire the event and reduces rumination which can lead to increased Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Communicate what was the worse part, as well as what you saw, heard, and smelled. Recalling the sensory experience can help re-program the the event in the brain and help prevent or reduce (PTSD) symptoms.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.  This can be as simple as taking several deep breaths while focusing on your breathing.  One of my favorite techniques is the 54321 exercise.
  • Help find ways to support each other and the community.  Turn the fear and anger into giving to others.
  • Be kind, gentle, and patient to yourself and others.  Do what you can to feel safe and comfortable.  Hugs and snuggles are essential (for teens too! ESPECIALLY for teens from trusted adults!)  Physical contact is important for healing.
  • There is no right way to grieve or process a traumatic event.  Expect that some will be effected immediately, but others may not have reactions/symptoms for days, weeks, or months.
  • Assess if professional services are needed.  If you are having extended difficulty at school, home, or work because of symptoms such as crying spells, panic attacks, anxiety, obtrusive thoughts, anger outbursts, defiance, regressive behavior, reliance on a substance (alcohol, drugs, food, etc) working with a mental health professional may be required.

Other related links:

http://blog.playdrhutch.com/2012/12/18/thoughts-and-resources-in-the-aftermath-of-a-tragedy/

http://blog.playdrhutch.com/2012/09/11/books-that-can-help-children-grieve/

Laura Hutchison (PlayDrMom) is a clinical psychologist who specializes in children and play therapy, as well as a wife, mother of 2, professor of Humanistic Psychology, and blogger.

Blog:  http://blog.playdrhutch.com

FB:  https://www.facebook.com/PlayDrMom

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