Counseling Groups Mount Response to Sandy Hook School Shootings
Associations moved quickly to provide resources to mental health professionals and the public in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
Associations serving the counseling professions have been here before.
Just hours after the shootings Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, as the scale of the tragedy started to become clear, associations in the mental health sector moved quickly to provide resources to help their members, teachers, and parents deal with the emotional and psychological impact of the second-largest mass shooting in U.S. history—in which 20 of the 26 dead were children only six or seven years old.
“The good news is that within about five hours, we were posting things not only on our website but on our social media space,” said Richard Yep, CAE, executive director and CEO of the American Counseling Association. “The bad news is that we were able to do it so quickly because we’ve had to do it so many times over the past several years that we actually do have a template that we use in disasters like this.”
Similar responses came from the American School Counselors Association, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Yep said ACA is fielding numerous calls from members eager to go to Newtown to provide hands-on assistance, but ACA is encouraging a local focus.
“Let’s face it, this is on the news 24/7, and whether the kid’s in California or Mississippi or Kentucky or wherever, they’re going have some of the trauma associated with the event,” he said.
NASP turned immediately to its National Emergency Assistance Team, a group of school psychologists with training in crisis response, to put together information resources for both the public and school mental health professionals. The package includes a new PowerPoint presentation for use in schools “to explain what the reactions are, what teachers need to know because they’ll be the frontline people answering kids’ questions, what parents need to know, and what other resources need to be available to help in the long term,” said NASP Executive Director Susan Gorin, CAE.
The association is also readying mobile resources, in the event that Newtown officials ask for onsite assistance, she said.
A NASP member was among the victims Friday, and her loss has shaken the NASP community, Gorin said. According to media reports, Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary Sherlach was among the first killed when she and the principal, who was also slain, stepped out of the school office and into a hallway after hearing a disturbance.
“Having a school psychologist doing her job, running into harm’s way and being killed, has really, really affected our members, primarily I think because they can see themselves doing the same thing,” Gorin said. “She didn’t do anything necessarily extraordinary. She did her job, and that’s what it led to.”
Yep noted that ACA is helping its member counselors care for themselves along with their clients. “There is trauma that they experience as well,” he said. “In a situation where a counselor also happens to be a parent of a six-year-old, they have to be able to step up and provide the service that they’re trained to provide, but they also have to be able to talk to someone else about ‘here’s how I’m feeling about it.’”
Yep said ACA and other associations in the mental health field are trying to help their members achieve a straightforward goal.
“In some small way, the counselor is helping someone come to grips” with tragedy, he said. “Not to answer why, but at least feel that our clients and students have more control over their lives, whether they’re six years old or 60 years old.”