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LIU Post Trauma Expert: Children Will Need Reassurance, Families Will Need Community After School Shootings

Dr. Thomas Demaria, director of mental health clinic and expert on community trauma, says Connecticut tragedy adds to anxiety from Hurricane Sandy


Morgan Lyle,Assistant Director of Public Relations
LIU Post, Long Island University

Brookville, N.Y. – In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. School shootings, parents must reassure children that such events can happen but are rare, and affected families should seek each other out for fellowship during the long healing process, a psychology professor at LIU Post who specializes in the impact of trauma on communities said.

“I think that we live our lives with basic assumptions that the world is a safe place. Kids look to their parents and institutions to give their lives a sense of safety and normalcy,” said Thomas Demaria, Ph.D., director of LIU Post’s public mental health clinic and an expert on community trauma. “When something happens that makes them feel they haven’t been protected and they’re not safe, it causes them to have more fears about the future and lose that cocoon they’re usually in that adults are here to protect them from harm.”

“Children are going to put more and more focus on the parents to assure them that they are safe,” he said. “It puts an extra burden on the parents, who are also shocked, to let children know that violent events are an aberration, that just because it happens once doesn’t mean it will happen again. That’s a big distinction.” Family comfort and rituals are especially important, he said.

Dr. Demaria is the founder of the Trauma Response Team, a volunteer group of clinical psychology doctoral students and professors at LIU Post who have provided counseling to people affected by Hurricane Sandy, the 9/11 terror attacks and other traumatic events. He is a member of the advisory board of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.

“In the northeast, kids are also feeling the aftermath of the hurricane,” Demaria said. “We’re hearing more and more kids talking about being afraid of the weather, afraid of the noise, the wind, trees blowing, the way the power went out and couldn’t be put back on again. Kids and families are still struggling with recovery from something that hasn’t happened in most people’s lifetimes. Then this disaster occurs, and it’s just another cause for anxiety, another blow to their sense of security and safety.”

In the weeks and months to come, the Newtown community might want to establish a families center. Dr. Demaria co-founded the World Trade Center Family Center to serve families of people who died in the attacks as well as first responders and their families. He has also advised communities on establishing similar institutions along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s important for families to realize they can’t do this alone, they have to be part of a community,” Demaria said. “Remaining isolated makes the recovery harder and more painful. It’s important that they get together as a community and heal together as a community.”

Posted 12/14/2012

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