Monday, March 14, 2005

Crisis and Healing

Last night I went to a very thought-provoking panel discussion about crisis intervention. I'm a volunteer for two organizations in our local area which provide different types of crisis intervention and support for communities or individuals experiencing trauma, crisis, natural disasters, or other traumatic events. The panel discussion actually took place based upon my natural inclination to introduce the directors of the two groups of which I am a member/volunteer, creating a symbiotic and synergistic relationship which may prove to be extremely fruitful.

Briefly, I work with Community Crisis Support Services of Greenfield, MA, which is a program of the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT). CCSS provides critical incident stress debriefings (CISD) to groups of people or communities affected by traumatic events such as fires, murders, suicides, violent crime, domestic violence, etcetera. I also volunteer as a member of the Amherst Medical Reserve Corps. This is a one-year pilot program funded in part by federal dollars appropriated in the wake of September 11th. The MRC's function is to be trained and available to respond in the case of natural disasters, terrorism, public health emergencies (like outbreaks of Hepatitis A or meningitis), or other incidents. The MRC exists to assist local emergency responders and authorities whose resources and personnel might be overwhelmed in a true emergent situation, and a network of local MRC's is growing across the country as we speak.

Sitting in this room of dedicated professionals, I was moved almost to tears by the idea that we were all there simply because we care and wish to be of service. With no possibility of financial remuneration of any kind (except for the project coordinators who receive very modest grant-funded salaries----what grant-funded salary isn't modest, you ask?), this group of nurses, mental health professionals and one chiropractor wishes to serve their community by being prepared to be of assistance at the worst of times. That simple and moving idea just swept through my heart last night and I felt the impact of that reality on a visceral level.

When I'm experiencing "compassion fatigue" in my daytime work, this type of emergency preparedness training lets me see a window in which I can be of service to the community at large in a more basic and straightforward manner. About six months ago, I was the lead "debriefer" for a group of employees and managers at a bank that had been robbed at gun-point. I can't talk about the details at all, but I can say that providing a therapeutic environment in which the affected individuals could vent their feelings in a healthy manner was very satisfying. It's such an honor to be trusted in this way by a literal group of strangers.

I would just like anyone reading this to know that in many communities across the country and around the world, there are thousands of people who spend a great deal of their free time learning and practicing these skills so that any of you---at a moment's notice---could receive such support and succor if you were ever in need. If anyone reading this wishes to participate in trainings for such wonderful community service, feel free to email me and I'll do my best to point you in the right direction. Many lay people take part in such trainings and provide an important aspect of trauma recovery---peer support. Usually, no prior training or education is required.

Amidst the ugliness in the world that can bring us all down a notch at times, the knowledge that many dedicated people are working in so many capacities for the good of others is a heart-warming notion that continually restores my faith in humanity.
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