From NATAL Chief Psychologist, Yotam Dagan
In the immediate aftermath of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, NATAL Psychologist Yotam Dagan visited Parkland, Florida, representing NATAL as part of a delegation with the Israeli Trauma Coalition. The following is his first-hand account on the ground, including the important work being done to heal the invisible wounds of trauma and rebuild community resilience.
Following the tragic high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, an urgent need arose to assist the school and community in managing the aftermath of this horrific event.
In the chaos, 14 students and 3 teachers were shot and killed in the school classrooms and corridors by a former fellow student. Survivors fled through blood-filled floors, jumping over their wounded friends, running out of the killing zone, carrying with them a sense of loss and the guilt of the survivors.
Immediately, so many were hit by the invisible bullet of psychological trauma. They faced the pain, bereavement, and loss of close friends, along with the sense that this safe and secure community has now become subject to such severe carnage and grief.
Facing the huge challenge of overcoming this trauma, the extended school community was in need of help to return to a sense of normalcy, and to assist the incredible number of those affected.
How do you go back to doing your homework and seeing your friends?
How do you get back to just living life again?
For decades, Israel has been facing these seemingly impossible transitions from war and terror-related losses to what is sometimes referred to as “the day after”. One of the lessons learned has been that, within the immediate aftermath of disaster, there exists a window of opportunity to provide guidance and to facilitate learning with the aim of preventing psychological trauma. This work is at the core of bouncing back to normalcy. This work also facilitates post-traumatic growth.
In response, the state of Israel, together with the Broward County Jewish Federation and Goodman Jewish Family Services, invited a team of trauma experts from the Israeli Trauma Coalition, a backbone organization in which NATAL is a major partner, to come assist in the aftermath of this terrible attack.
NATAL IN ACTION
Ten days after the shooting, we landed at Miami international airport and after a short drive arrived in Coral Springs, a town very close to Parkland and the high school.
Behind the clean and quiet streets, and the seemingly normal day to day functioning, we realized that, in many ways, we had entered a war zone.
Over the next week, we held workshops with first responders, school social workers, mental health clinicians, teachers, parents, families of victims, faith and community leaders.
Within this strongly knit social fabric of the community, almost everyone we met was connected directly to the victims, to the school or to someone else that was. The pain, sense of personal loss and of a shattered reality was prominent. The need to keep on going, along with the vexing question of how to do it was expressed repeatedly.
In a typical 3 hour session, we listened, assessed the needs, and humbly shared our experience, on what works best – for us in Israel (that might also work here in the US). We sought to normalize the stressful reactions that people experienced and to help them connect to their internal and external strengths and effective coping mechanisms.
Driving across Broward County, we trained hundreds of devoted, highly professional people. We sought to touch the lives of many that strive to help and make a difference. We were greeted warmly by the community and received very strong feedback regarding the training and help that we provided.
The way we see it, this was just the beginning. We hope to be back in FL, in the near future. We at NATAL, believe in creating and sustaining partnerships with local relief organizations, setting and providing in-depth training and eventually training local trainers so that what we can give – in terms of knowledge and best practices- remains within the community in a sustainable way.
In this incomprehensible nightmare, we were inspired by the great power of this community, by the goodness of its people, by the bravery of the survivors and by the strong values that guide both of our nations. It was an honor to take on this mission, and to be able to assist, to help heal and to strengthen.