Nearly a decade after the September 11th attacks, many studies have been done on the mental health of those who survived and responded to the towers. But now a new study is examining trauma in clinicians who treat those affected by the tragedy. NY1's Anthony Pascale filed the following report.
In the days after September 11, 2001, a number of people traumatized by the attacks sought mental health services to deal with their experiences and anxieties. But what about mental health workers who were similarly affected by the attacks? NYU Social Work Professor Carol Tosone decided to study the issue, after her own 9/11 experience.
“I was sitting with a client when a plane seemed to fly over the building and it was an excruciating sound, we were both distressed. We had no idea what was going on," Tosone said.
Tosone wondered whether other clinicians were similarly distressed by the attacks, and how they could go about treating those affected.
She surveyed nearly 500 clinicians who were in Midtown and Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 and went on to treat trauma patients. Her study found that many were dealing with shared trauma.
"With shared trauma, I’m not only impacted secondarily from your experience, but I’ve had my own trauma I’ve gone through," said Tosone. "So I’m exposed primarily and secondarily to trauma. So it’s actually different and creates a more potentiating effect on trauma."
Tricia Stephens was evacuated from Lower Manhattan after the towers fell. The licensed social worker had to seek mental health services to deal with her own personal experience before she went on to counsel September 11th first responders and volunteers.
"It’s a unique challenge when the clinician and the client are sharing this experience," said Stephens. "There are things that can be a benefit. The empathy certainly there...the understanding of the extent of the impact can be there, as well. But it’s also extremely important to pay attention to oneself and ensure that you are ready and prepared to move forward with this client.”
Tosone says mental health professionals are being asked to take on more proactive roles in responding to disasters. She hopes her research will stress the importance of preparing clinicians to work in traumatic environments.
"We need to refortify clinicians," said Tosone. "We need to understand who are the people that can practice best in these kinds of environments. And is this something you can teach?"
The study is currently being replicated in New Orleans, for clinicians who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina.