Dealing with lingering trauma in the wake of shooting
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Dealing with lingering trauma in the wake of shooting

Israel Trauma Coalition comes to aid communal healing.

A projects (or directive) that Angelica Joy Miskanin, a JFCS psychotherapist, has used with clients. Photo courtesy of Angelica Joy Miskanin,
A projects (or directive) that Angelica Joy Miskanin, a JFCS psychotherapist, has used with clients. Photo courtesy of Angelica Joy Miskanin,

Holidays, anniversaries and other occasions have sparked, reawakened or altered attitudes in the six-month period since October 27, 2018. While the community continues to experience myriad emotions, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Jewish Family and Community Services recently welcomed representatives from the Israel Trauma Coalition to aid communal healing.

Although the Israeli professionals visited Pittsburgh shortly after the attack, their return visit was critical given ITC’s “unique expertise,” said Rabbi Amy Bardack, Federation’s director of Jewish Life and Learning.

“Typically, the Israel Trauma Coalition follows kind of a train-to-trainer model. They come in, they provide training to service providers, they leave and the service providers implement the interventions,” said Jordan Golin, JFCS’ president and CEO. “After October 27, because when they came our community was still in such a deep state of crisis, they did a little bit of that training but the service providers themselves, ourselves, we were still in a state of shock — we were still trying to process what was going on while delivering services to people who were in need — and so they were limited with how far they could go with us at that time.”

During that initial visit, ITC professionals met with “different community organizations, they met with certain rabbis and met with different Jewish institutions. They met with some families and were really doing that direct support that was needed in kind of the acute phase of the recovery. This time around, this was much more of a planned training for different kinds of providers in the community,” Golin added.

Bardack and Golin worked with ITC to prepare for the April 8-12 sessions, and although determining logistics was one matter, assessing the community’s present state is another.

“There are different needs within our community. People respond to trauma differently. They respond differently from one another, and they respond differently at different points in time, and some of that has to do with how close they were to the trauma,” said Golin.

Family members, survivors, service providers, reporters and photographers have all experienced “symptoms of trauma,” Golin said.

A projects (or directive) that Angelica Joy Miskanin, a JFCS psychotherapist, has used with clients. Photo courtesy of Angelica Joy Miskanin,

“There’s lots of people who were impacted by this. Now, some of them were impacted by it initially, they kind of got over it and they’re doing pretty well now,” Goin said. “Then there are folks who thought they were doing pretty well, but things continue to come up that result in symptoms coming back — which suggests that they they haven’t really addressed what they’re struggling with — but it’s not something that they’re struggling with on a daily basis, it’s more on a periodic basis when something comes up in the news or something’s happening in the community they can find themselves feeling anxious again and experiencing symptoms again.”

Angelica Joy Miskanin, a psychotherapist at JFCS, participated in the recent ITC training and regularly meets with clients impacted by the October 27 event.

“The truth is that every person is responding very differently,” but a commonality is in how clients approached the holidays of Passover and Easter, she said.

Whether it was having a big seder or event, and providing a “shared experience with a lot of people,” or “taking steps to make that experience more intimate,” individuals tried to “find ways to plan for this in a way that feels right for them,” said Miskanin.

This season “tends to be a very powerful time” and “brings up so much for many people,” she noted.

Golin agreed. “What we’re seeing across the community right now are a lot of people who have been doing pretty well starting to have more symptoms — and that’s something we’ve been noticing, I’d say, since maybe four to five months after the shooting,” he said. “The numbers of people coming in for treatment kind of died down after the first few months, and now they’re starting to come back up again.”

Along with anxiety, symptoms can include trouble sleeping at night; nightmares; preoccupied thoughts related to the shooting; worries about safety or the safety of loved ones; exaggerated startle responses, such as when one hears a loud noise and jumps; feeling unsafe; and looking over one’s shoulder or looking for exits when going to a public space.

A projects (or directive) that Angelica Joy Miskanin, a JFCS psychotherapist, has used with clients. Photo courtesy of Angelica Joy Miskanin,

“I think it’s important for people to recognize that the reactions that they might be experiencing are normal reactions to a traumatic experience. We have a lot of people who struggle with their symptoms, because they didn’t have a personal connection to any of the victims and they feel guilty about struggling and about having symptoms. And I would love for the readers to understand that it’s completely normal to have symptoms related to a trauma, even in a trauma like this kind of situation — especially because people feel a very personal connection to it even if they didn’t know the victims,” said Golin.

“This was an anti-Semitic attack in our community, and people who live in our community, people who are Jewish, not only in Squirrel Hill, but across the city and sometimes in some cases, even across the country can find themselves having a hard time dealing with the trauma of what happened even though they don’t have this personal connection to any of the victims,” Golin added. “And that’s OK, that’s real, that’s genuine, and there is help that’s available. We have in our city a lot of trained trauma therapists that are available to help people manage their symptoms.”

That support is crucial.

“I think a lot of people may feel the need to minimize how they’re feeling,” Miskanin said, “and it can be so helpful to have extra support in times like these.”

JFCS is offering “all kinds of programs, support groups and other kinds of services, because different things help different people. Not everyone needs to see a professional therapist, but attending a support group or some kind of event might be helpful, or for some people it’s helpful to take action to become involved in some sort of cause where they feel they can do something with the experience that we’ve all been through. So just like the symptoms are different for everybody, the other solution is also different for everybody,” said Golin.

Added Miskanin, “I would just say to the community that if they’re struggling at all, that their feelings are important, and there’s help and support available for them if they need it.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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