The impact of september 11 on EAPs


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The Impact of September 11 on EAPs
Highlighting the Risk of Compassion Fatigue
Are We Prepared for What Comes Next?

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The impact of september 11 on EAPs

  1. 1. ____The Impact of September 11 on EAPs Highlighting the Risk of Compassion Fatigue Are We Prepared for What Comes Next?Compassion fatigue, a condition largely unknown to most EAPs before September 11, is still notwidely understood, but the possibility of more terrorist attacks makes education and trainingimperative. Vincent J. McNally, M.P.S., CEAP, FAAETS Vince brings over 31 years of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) experience. In addition to his investigative career, he has 15 years experience in the Employee Assistance (EAP) field, which culminated in his position as the Administrator of the FBI’s Employee Assistance Program at FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC. In that capacity, Vince supervised 106 critical incident responses involving a total of 2,655 employees, and included the TWA flight #800 recovery team, Egypt Air, and the Africa Embassy bombings. Following the 9/11 NYC World Trade Center terrorist attack, Vince delayed his retirement from the FBI to assist them and other law enforcement entities who were assigned to the Staten Island landfill locating body parts and forensic evidence. Upon retiring from the FBI, Vince worked with the Department of Justice to teach crisis negotiations, stress management and CATSM to Iraqi senior police in Baghdad, Iraq. His additional duties included training new instructors in adapting to Iraq’s stressful conditions. Vince is a Fellow and serves on the Board of Scientific and Professional Advisors of the AmericanAcademy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. He is a Compassion Fatigue Specialist certified in Acute Traumatic Stress Management, and is a Certified Member of the Academy of Traumatology at FloridaStateUniversity. Vince can be reached through TRAUMAREDUCTION@AOL.COM
  2. 2. One week after September 11, I traveled to New York’s Staten Island landfill. That’s where theytook all the rubble from the terrorist attacks on the WorldTradeCenter. The workers there weresifting through the debris, trying to identify body parts, bits of clothing, and other remains fromthe people who had died.What I did with the other FBI EAP personnel and FBI Chaplains was set up a tent to provide asafe place for the workers to take a break and relax. We offered them some donated clothes andtoiletries so they could change out of their contaminated clothing. We provided handouts aboutmanaging trauma and compassion fatigue, but I could tell they were in no way capable ofcomprehending anything we might say or give them at that point. I could see the expressions ontheir faces, the trauma they were experiencing from looking through the rubble, and I knew fromexperience they weren’t ready for any counseling at that particular time. 12/21/2006 Dealing with 9-11 55As I was an FBI Special Agent myself, I was able to understand the mindset of someone up thereon the landfill. You’re in no shape emotionally to sit and listen to a lecture or read a brochure.You’re not ready yet. They were still looking for body parts. It was good for me to be there to letthe workers know their efforts were appreciated and to offer assistance if needed, but that wasn’tthe time or place to be pushing anything on them.It was reminiscent of a similar situation in 1998, after the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenyaand Tanzania. FBI personnel and evidence recovery teams (ERT) were put on military aircraftand returned to the United States, and I met them at Andrew’s Air Force Base. I didn’t give thema lecture--they had just witnessed and searched the site of a terrorist attack followed by 24 hourson a plane. Instead, I thanked them for what they were doing on behalf of their country andpresented them with some handouts that described some of the symptoms they might develop aspart of the reaction to what they had experienced. I said, “I want you to take this informationhome with you. We’re going to have a debriefing later, but right now you need to be home withyour families. I just want you to remember you’ve done an excellent job, and we appreciate it.”They were grateful for that because they in no way wanted to listen to anything at that point.They just wanted to get home and see their families. As the Employee Assistance Administratorfor the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., a couple of the returning FBI Agents thanked me
  3. 3. for just coming out to meet them on a Sunday evening. All the returning ERT teams wereafforded a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) upon return to their respective offices.There’s a course I teach, Comprehensive Acute Traumatic Stress Management (CATSM) thatwould have been more appropriate for interacting with the returning FBI personnel andemergency services landfill workers. CATSM helps caregivers and emergency responders dealwith the emergent psychological needs of individuals before, during, and after traumaticsituations. It teaches you to connect with the individual and “ground” him. Managingcompassion fatigue can, and should, be done in conjunction with CATSM. Second-hand Smoke 12/21/2006 Dealing with 9-11 49I first learned about compassion fatigue back around 1987, when I was with the FBI. I learnedabout it at a conference of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) inBaltimore. Dr. Charles Figley of FloridaStateUniversity, an expert on compassion fatigue, was afeatured speaker, and based on his presentation I took that program back to FBI headquarters tothe Employee Assistance Program (EAP).I retired from the FBI in 2002, and since then my focus has been on helping emergency servicesand law enforcement personnel avoid and manage trauma and educating employee assistanceprofessionals about compassion fatigue and trauma.Even within the police, fire, and emergency rescue community, compassion fatigue is still afairly new concept. Every time I talk to people in these areas, I find that many of them are notaware of it. When I say, “I’d like to do a compassion fatigue presentation for you,” they ask,“What is that, and how does it fit my organization?” They’re much more attuned to criticalincident stress management programs. Compassion fatigue is not a hot topic that is veryimportant to them at this time.Within the EAP industry, the level of understanding is getting better. The first time I taught acompassion fatigue course in Florida after September 11, most of the EA professionals in the
  4. 4. room appeared not to be aware of the term, its use, or how it affects them. Consequently, thereisn’t a great understanding within our profession of the symptoms, the methodology, and thetreatment. Instead of blaming others or self-medicating in response to the hectic workloads orlistening to our client’s traumatic stories we need to do some introspection and seek assistance.Discussions about the symptoms of compassion fatigue can get kind of clouded, because thesymptoms mimic--perhaps “include” is a better term--some of the symptoms of post-traumaticstress. I like to call it “second-hand smoke.” It’s the residue of working with those we serve and,even though we ourselves have not been directly exposed to the traumatic event that our client isrelating to us, we are good empathetic employee assistance professionals and we begin to feeltheir fear and vulnerability. The symptoms include, but aren’t limited to, the following: Not sleeping well; Intrusive thoughts; Worry and anxiety; Feelings of helplessness; Withdraw; Excessive preoccupation; and Shortness of temper.Left untreated, compassion fatigue can lead in the direction of substance abuse, depression andother behaviors that threaten work performance and health. An EA professional who hascompassion fatigue and doesn’t recognize it will not be able to function correctly. Three-pronged ApproachI had compassion fatigue once, and immediately sought assistance. Ever since then, I’vepreached the mantra that if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. I have a three-
  5. 5. pronged approach to dealing with compassion fatigue--take care of your personal life, your work,and your education.In your personal life, you need to make sure to get at least seven hours of sleep each night,exercise regularly, practice good nutrition, enjoy your family, and believe in some God (or atleast believe in some spirituality). As far as your work goes, you need to set realistic goals, worktoward achieving them, and make sure you have a support group or network you can rely on. Allexperienced EA professionals should have somebody who serves as their mentor. You can’t goon and on, day after day, without discussing what you’re doing with another professional. Interms of education, you need to learn about critical incident stress management, comprehensiveacute traumatic stress management, and compassion fatigue and other “tools in the toolbox”which inoculates yourself and allows you to be better able to deal with traumatic events.Another thing I learned about a couple of years ago that can help mitigate and preventcompassion fatigue is a series of trauma-releasing exercises (TRE). The exercises comprise aroutine that releases chronic tension and gets the stress out of your body. I’ve used the exercisesand had success with them, and I’ve seen them work for others as well.All in all, the more information you have, the better you are at recognizing the symptoms ofcompassion fatigue and taking care of yourself. The problem our profession faces, in myestimation, is that because everything is shown on television almost as soon as it happens, wehave, in effect, instant communication. This contributes to EA professionals being sent directlyto the scene of a disaster or traumatic incident, so they’re positioned where they will be moresusceptible to the symptoms of compassion fatigue.I foresee more problems relating to terrorism in the future, so I think we need to have additionalinformation about compassion fatigue put out through EAPA and its chapters that focuses onhelping the EA professional. Compassion fatigue needs to be brought to the attention of more ofour people, and we need to offer more training. A workshop would be the first priority. It wouldbe a basic three-hour workshop where attendees can utilize some self-help tests that measure theamount of compassion fatigue an individual is experiencing.Using the information from the self-help tests, EA professionals can formulate their ownrecovery program so they can prevent the symptoms of compassion fatigue from taking hold andbuild resilience. All EA professionals should have a personal plan to help themselves. A personalrecovery plan will contain guidelines to follow in the event you encounter some trauma--which,as September 11 taught us, you will.