Well-Informed Support for Survivors of Trauma
Author: Shauna Springer
Editor’s note: For more than 10 years, TAPS has comforted and cared for more than 11,500 surviving family members who have lost a military loved one to suicide. Each day, an average of three to four new survivors of suicide loss come to TAPS, and we welcome them with the warm embrace that can only come from those who truly understand their journey. This is the last installment in a five-part series about how best to support an individual and the community after a traumatic loss.
In light of recent news of the suicide deaths of Sydney Aiello, Calvin Desir and Jeremy Richman, survivors who lost loved ones in mass shooting tragedies, we have been reflecting on our best practice plans to support survivors of traumatic loss. In previous blogs, we have focused on the need for support to be proactive, comprehensive and ongoing.
4th pillar: Support must be Well-informed.
Our response plan to mass trauma must be well-informed. For example, after events such as a mass shooting, there is both grief and trauma. Grief and trauma have many overlapping symptoms, but they are not the same thing and they cannot be treated in the same way. In certain populations, like the veteran population, we search for trauma symptoms, but often fail to recognize and address the grief that underlies trauma. In the population at large, we may send a team of grief counselors to those affected but may miss the extent to which trauma needs to be assessed and treated.
TAPS has ongoing partnerships with many organizations that support the military and civilian communities. During our trainings to service organizations, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Vet Centers and private health care networks, we teach people to ask questions like:
- “What story are you telling yourself about the death of your loved one?”
- “When you think of your loved one, what kinds of images come to mind?”
Within the stories they share, we can see whether these images change over time, whether they include warm feelings of increased closeness to the deceased, or whether a person is blocked from grieving and repeatedly replaying themes of horror and helplessness.
With evidence-based information, organizations can help survivors to establish a healthy grief journey. TAPS has developed a number of free trainings that are widely available to support postvention response planning. Our webinar, “Suicide, Grief and Trauma” offers insight around the experiences of grief and loss, as compared with trauma, and describes why trauma must be proactively addressed and treated to allow for a healthy grief journey. This course is available to view and share without limit.
The TAPS Suicide Prevention & Postvention Team offers a range of resources, programs and events as well as training and consultation for organizations and providers.
Shauna Springer, Ph.D., is the senior director of TAPS Suicide Prevention & Postvention Initiatives. She is a licensed psychologist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a doctoral degree from the University of Florida. She previously served as a front-line psychologist in a Department of Veterans Affairs behavioral health clinic and has helped hundreds of warriors reconnect with their tribe, strengthen their most important relationships and build lives that are driven by their deepest values.
TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing has an archived selection of webinars available to view, including several on the topics of suicide loss, post-traumatic growth and coping with grief. A schedule of upcoming online and in-person events are available on the training calendar.