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Area psychologists offer free trauma counseling

The bombing of the Boston Marathon, and the grisly images broadcast in its aftermath, could have lasting effects for some of those who were there or witnessed it second-hand.

“(Traumatized) people may have an overwhelming sense that danger could lurk anywhere,” explained Dr. Amy Kahn, a Northampton psychologist and a coordinator for the Western Massachusetts Trauma Recovery Team. “They could be easily startled by loud noises or fast-moving people. They could be triggered by visual or audio experiences that are similar to the site, and they could experience disruptive sleep, nightmares, or increased anxiety or irritability.”

Though Kahn said most people with these symptoms will be back to normal within four months, others aren’t so quick to bounce back, if they do at all.

“For some people, these symptoms can last a lifetime, and they can worsen, or increase in intensity or frequency,” said Kahn.

The Trauma Recovery Network would like to make sure that doesn’t happen. Kahn and 17 other psychologists and social workers in the Franklin-Hampshire region are ready to provide free counseling and other resources to those affected by Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon.

“We can offer up to five free sessions of pyschotherapy and trauma treatment,” said Kahn. Though many are put-off by the thought of a lifetime in therapy, Kahn said treatment doesn’t have to be ongoing.

“Even just one session can help.”

Therapy, she said, provides a safe environment where people can open up and talk about their feelings, without worrying what others think. This can be crucial in getting trauma victims to come out of their shells.

Too often, she said, trauma victims become isolated and withdrawn, and internalize their feelings rather than getting them out.

To those who don’t wish to seek professional help, said Kahn, her group can offer guidance.

“Self-care includes pacing your activities, so you don’t get carried away and overstimulated,” she said. “People should also seek out family and friends that they’re comfortable talking to.”

Some try to deal with trauma by turning to alcohol, drugs, or food, rather than friends and family, said Kahn.

“Those are very harmful ways of dealing with stress,” she said.

Small children can be particularly affected by senseless acts of violence and the graphic portrayal of them. To help children cope with traumatic events, the TRN trains parents, as well as teachers and other school staff, to discuss such tragedies with kids.

The first step, said Kahn, is to turn off the TV, and minimize exposure to the scenes of the bombing and its aftermath. Then, talk to your kids.

“Let your children know the danger is over, they’re safe, that these things rarely happen and it was far away,” she advised. “And be available for questions.”

If kids aren’t talking about the bombing, Kahn advised not to force them to. Also, while parents should address the incident with their children, Kahn advised that they try to keep their kids’ spirits up by following their day-to-day routines, and keep their minds off the tragedy with some light-hearted activities.

“This generation of kids has experienced so much, at such a young age, from 9/11 to Newtown and everything between them,” said Kahn. “Parents need to assure them that they’re in charge, and that their home and community are safe.”

The Trauma Recovery Network is also available for more isolated incidents, including workplace deaths, suicides, and the deaths of schoolchildren.

If you would like to meet with a Trauma Recovery Network therapist, call coordinators Dr. Amy Kahn at (413) 687-2314, or Nancy Simons, at (413) 549-4854.

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