I was just beginning my Master’s In Social Work program and working part-time at local sporting goods store. Work started out fairly routine by doing inventory but then one of my co-workers said a plane just hit The World Trade Center. My first reaction was, how tragic, must have been someone who just started flying. They hit their tiny plane into The World Trade Center by accident? How could a single engine plane just hit right into a building like that? I thought it was just a minor tragedy and went about taking my inventory. 5 minutes later I then went out to watch TV with everyone else.
Then saw the replay…My heart sunk and I nearly fell over. That was not a single engine plane…It was a commercial airliner! We all know what happened next. The ten staff got together for a debriefing and we were told to call our families and head home. My then fiance at the time answered the phone in tears, voice trembling, shaken…
I rushed home… I was angry and was not sure what to think. As events unfolded I feared for all involved. The anger was certainly there. Confusion…how could this happen? What’s next? I was not there and I did not bear witness to the events live but wow did feel close to this. We all did on that day.
15 years later social media is awash with tributes. 15 years to the day this event is a key part of our history and our narrative as a country. Few things in our day to day have ever been the same since. That’s why I also ask where are you now and where are you going?
Since then I have completed my Master’s In Social Work and have learned a lot about Trauma and Healing. As a country and as communities were are still healing from this event. There is a lot of anger and hatred. There is plenty of confusion and blame to go around too.
I have done a lot of reading to understand how therapists feelings effect treatment. I have learned about shared and secondary trauma. As therapists we often “feel” the trauma we listen to. In reading about this, one of the most important concepts I have learned about is the notion of “Post-Traumatic Growth”
The Post Traumatic Research Group at the University of North Carolina define the term as…
“It is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Although we coined the term posttraumatic growth, the idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new. The theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What is reasonably new is the systematic study of this phenomenon by psychologists, social workers, counselors, and scholars in other traditions of clinical practice and scientific investigation.”
This is a fascinating part of the change process in therapy but also relevant to anyone working in and around a traumatic event. Dr. Carole Tosone has done wonderful work interviewing therapists about their experiences counseling people after 9/11. Her work is wonderfully summarized an episode of The Social Work Podcast. They talk a lot about shared trauma and post traumatic growth within the therapy process.
The beauty of social work (shameless plug) is that we not only examine the micro process but also how communities heal. It is an important exercise to walk though this micro-process but then expanding it to a macro focus. 15 years later how have we shared and potentially grown from this trauma? 15 years later how have communities used these processes or not?
These are complex questions, but these are ones we should be asking. Where was I 15 years ago? I was scared, angry, and confused. I recognize to some those words are just scratching the service. 15 years later I not only ask where were you, but where have you been with these feelings? Now I would like to think this was an act of hate and hopefully love will eventually win.
Some still feel the same anger they felt that morning. Some are still grieving and some have healed. My challenge to you is to think about how you and your communities have grown? I have seen wonderful examples of communities coming together but also have seen lots of anger and at times hate. My hope is that with an understanding of shared trauma and post-traumatic growth, love continues to win so we can grow and heal together….