Prepared to Respond

November 17, 2016

by Jeremy Brown, Bereavement Specialist

We live in a world where the potential of traumatic incidents and crisis is becoming an ever increasing reality. Each day we watch in disbelief as news outlets deliver information about the latest mass shooting, freak accident, or tragic death of a young child. It seems as though the news of these types of situations is inescapable. Everywhere we turn we are faced with the reality that there is no corner of our world which is exempt from crisis and trauma. The days of thinking and hoping that tragedy will somehow bypass our community are gone. This is why our community needs to be prepared to respond and support one another when a critical incident does occur.

Recently, several members of the Community Hospice Bereavement team attended a training which was focused on equipping people with the skills needed to respond to a variety of critical incidents in our community. The Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) training was held at the Turlock Unified School District office, and was led by David Williams, M.A., B.C.C.C. Williams has over 20 years of experience in working alongside emergency services personnel, and is a Board Certified Crisis Chaplain with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Williams also holds several other certifications related to providing support and crisis intervention. During the three-day certification training, members of the Community Hospice Bereavement team were trained in both Group Crisis Intervention as well as Individual Peer Support.

As the training began, special attention was given to clarifying what a “critical incident” is. After all, in our fast paced social media driven world, words are powerful and can have a significant impact on people. For this reason, it is important to understand that critical incidents are defined as “unusually challenging events that have the potential to create significant human distress and can overwhelm one’s coping mechanisms.”(1) Upon hearing this definition, it is not uncommon to think, “Geez, I feel like I experience unusually challenging events that stress me out and overwhelm me all the time!” To some degree this is true. Life is indeed full of challenges that can feel overwhelming and cause a significant amount of stress. However, one of the keys to determining if a CISM response is needed is assessing whether or not a person affected by a crisis or traumatic event is able to respond and recover from the situation by using their normal coping mechanisms. With this in mind, we can see that CISM is more focused on a person’s response to a traumatic event rather than actual event itself. Some reactions following a trauma or crisis which may warrant a response from someone trained in CISM may include, but are not limited to: confusion or difficulty in decision making, anxiety, anger, panic, substance abuse, sleep disturbance, lack of appetite, withdrawal from normal social or workplace interactions, headaches, and even distorted vision.(2) In addition, a person in need of a CISM intervention is often unable to return to work, school, or other normal daily activities.

Whether a critical incident happens at or affects a school, business, hospital, church, sporting event, or any neighborhood here in Modesto, we want to be a support and come alongside those people who are most affected. As we look back through history we see convincing evidence “that many disorders could be nipped in the bud if prompt attention could be given.”(3) In addition, Critical Incident Stress Management is proactive in that it aims to promote “the resolution, repair, reconstruction, restoration, and rebuilding of the human spirit, mind, and body after sustaining the damages incurred by prolonged, extreme or overwhelming distress.”(4) This is why members of the Community Hospice Bereavement team attended the recent CISM training. We are committed to our neighbors here in our local and surrounding community, and we want to offer the highest level of compassionate and quality care to everyone we come in contact with. Regardless of what challenges someone may face, they can count on Community Hospice. Our team is so grateful for the opportunity we had to attend the recent certification training in Crisis Stress Management, and we are prepared to respond.

(1) George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, ABPP, FAPA, Assisting Individuals in Crisis, (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., Ellicott, MD, 2015), 6.

(2) Jeffrey T. Mitchell, PhD., Group Crisis Intervention, (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., Ellicott, MD, 2015), 41-43.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid, 17

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