New app offers support to victims of mass violence
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New app offers support to victims of mass violence

Transcend is available for both Apple and Android devices

The Transcend app offers support to victims of mass violence. Screenshot by David Rullo.
The Transcend app offers support to victims of mass violence. Screenshot by David Rullo.

Survivors of mass violence and their families can now find support virtually, thanks to a new app.

The Transcend app, available on both Android and iPhone platforms, was developed by the National Mass Violence and Victimization Resource Center.

Daniel Smith is a trained clinical psychologist at the Medical Center of South Carolina’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, where the NMVVRC is located. He serves as the center’s director of resources and technology and said the app was created in response to a need.

“We thought, this is an area that’s unique enough and the needs of folks who are affected by mass violence are specific enough that they might benefit from an app specifically designed to speak to the aftermath of mass violence,” he explained.

Once installed, Transcend invites users to watch a short introductory video, which explains that the app can help victims on the road to recovery by assisting users to work through their feelings. It also includes educational content, activities and resources for additional assistance.

Transcend might seem familiar to users of other apps like Calm and Headspace, but it was designed with the specific goal of assisting victims of mass violence.

After watching the video, users are asked a series of questions relating to their experience with mass violence, how their behavior has been affected and what emotions they are feeling.

Based on the user’s responses, Smith said, the app can recommend content and help with a recovery plan.

“If you say, ‘I’m feeling really depressed,’ you’ll be recommended to the ‘get up and move’ module, which is about reducing depression symptoms. If you identify a lot of grief, you will be recommended to go the ‘coping with loss’ module.”

While the app attempts to direct users who find its guidance helpful, it also allows one to simply flip through the app’s different sections.

“It is designed to be informational and practical,” Smith said, noting that this experience was created for users who respond negatively to being led through an app and would likely delete it from their phone if they were forced to follow a preprogrammed experience.

Transcend isn’t simply for those who have experienced mass violence. It was also designed to offer support to family members and friends of victims, Smith explained. He noted that there is module about helping others that could be used by parents attempting to offer support to children, neighbors helping neighbors or spouses helping one another.

The app even includes a memory book function, allowing users to upload photos from their smart devices. The photos, Smith said, might include the type of pictures that could offer comfort but which the user might not be comfortable sharing on social media.

And while Transcend might help victims of individual violence, Smith said it does have certain features created specifically for victims of mass violence. He acknowledged that it does share some features found on meditation apps like Headspace for good reason.

“Headspace actually provided some content for the app because they’re cool people and have a commitment to social justice and helping people,” Smith said. “When they found out what the app was about, they said, ‘if you want to steal some of our stuff for the relaxation component of what you’re doing, go right ahead.’”

Maggie Feinstein is the director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, created after the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre at the Tree of Life building. She said she serves with other resiliency centers as part of NMVVRC.

She said that she is a strong believer in self-directed healing and that Transcend helps make that goal a reality.

“It’s really one of the gold standards,” she said. “We all should know when we need some support and be able to find it and access it on our time. I love that apps have really expanded the ability to do that. We can find healing resources at two in the morning and we can’t sleep or on a Sunday. I think it’s very meaningful.”

Feinstein helped test Transcend in its development state and said she found the app to be very effective. She said that those working at the Medical University Center of South Carolina have thought deeply about trauma over the years and have put that expertise into the app.

The 10.27 Healing Partnership director has recommended the app and has promoted it on the center’s social media sites. She said that the center keeps close to the news and whenever they see or hear about something that may be upsetting to victims, they’ll post about the app to remind people about it.

She said that one of the differences between Transcend and other apps like Calm is that NMVVRC wasn’t looking to make a profit.

“This was developed by people who are academics, who have been working in this field and who have made no money off of it,” she said. “They’ve really developed it for people to have access to what they need when they need it and put evidence-based practice into action.”

Tennille Pereira is the director of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center in Las Vegas. She said that when the October 2017 mass shooting occurred in the city there was no national center or network to find support.

“There was no app, there was nothing there. Each community had to figure things out for themselves,” she said, noting that coincidentally, the NMVVRC was founded the same day as the Las Vegas shooting.

She said that Transcend is another tool for communities who might not have a resiliency center or resources available at the time of an incident of mass violence.

“It helps communities respond,” she said.

Smith said that given the nature of the app, he hopes it never appears as the top download in the Android or Apple Store but wants people to be aware it’s available if they need support.

“We’re not trying to be Headspace or the ESPN app or have everyone have us on their phone. We feel like people who need it are finding out about the app. It’s a little weird to tell people we exist after something horrible. We didn’t get into this profession to be ambulance chasers but when something bad happens, this is a product that we believe can relieve some of the suffering that victims experience,” he said. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org

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