People Heal When They Heal

Marleen Wong (bio) describes the symptoms of continuing traumatic stress in teachers.


For some teachers it's the first experience they've ever had with that kind of life or death — and death often — situations with themselves being at risk for serious injury or death. And definitely, for these children that are in their care, their responsibility. And so perhaps they don't know what to expect. And when they see others moving on, they think, "Well, I shouldn't be feeling this way."

I think initially there's this enormous upwelling of emotion because everybody is so distressed. But as you move out and away from the event, people begin to recover at different points of time. And so they begin to measure, "Well, how am I doing in relation to so and so? Oh, well, I'm doing better because I've stopped crying already in my class," or "I'm not experiencing those kind of flashbacks like I used to."

But each individual has a different path to go down. And people heal when they heal. So as they begin to watch their peers recover, perhaps at a faster pace than themselves, they become more reluctant to say, "It's still bothering me."

I think that the symptoms of traumatic stress, especially after that first period where every teacher comes back to school and wants to be there for their kids — they think about themselves last.

Then that period of that — well, it's kind of a honeymoon period where we're going to do whatever we can. We're going to protect these kids. And then as time goes on, maybe the second or third week, all of a sudden, "I don't want to go to school. I dread going to school. I don't want to think about this and yet I'm thinking about it all the time. I don't know what to say with my kids. I get very upset when they get into fights or they're loud or I hear some sudden noise."

And that vulnerability still exists at a personal level after the second or third week — I think those are serious signs of ongoing traumatic stress — not necessarily traumatic stress disorder but a signal that teachers need perhaps to talk with someone.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.

 

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