Comprehensive Acute Traumatic Stress Management

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During times of crisis, we are quick to address “physical trauma.” We don’t wait to call for help, and emergency medical personnel certainly don’t wait to transport someone to the hospital before efforts are made to control bleeding. Unfortunately, a “hidden trauma” is often ignored. This trauma leaves the deepest scars and changes people forever—traumatic stress.

At the turn of the century, in our pre-September 11th world, Acute Traumatic Stress Management (ATSM) was born (Lerner and Shelton, 2001). ATSM was developed to provide emergency responders with a Traumatic Stress Response Protocol. It was designed to raise the level of care—beyond traditional emergency medical intervention. It enabled first responders to address emergent psychological needs.

There were many lessons learned after September 11th. One of them was the realization that crises do not always have a beginning and an end—and, that traumatic stress can impact individuals, groups, organizations, communities—even an entire nation. We have all observed how traumatic stress disables people, causes disease, precipitates mental disorders, leads to substance abuse, and destroys relationships and families.

Traumatic stress is experienced by survivors of disasters and catastrophes (e.g., hurricanes, airplane crashes, terrorist bombings, train derailments, and floods). However, it does not have to take a highly publicized event to cause debilitating emotional scars. Traumatic stress has many “faces,” and is experienced every day during and in the aftermath of our personal tragedies (e.g., facing a serious illness, dealing with the loss of a loved one, experiencing an automobile accident, etc.).

Much has been written about crisis intervention—”psychological first-aid” introduced in the aftermath of a tragedy. Notwithstanding, there is little information offering practical strategies to help people during a traumatic event. This is a time when people are perhaps most suggestible and vulnerable to traumatic stress—a tremendous opportunity for intervention.

ATSM offers “practical tools” for addressing the wide spectrum of traumatic experiences—from mild to the most severe. It is a goal-directed process delivered within the framework of a facilitative or helping attitudinal climate. ATSM aims to “jump-start” an individual’s coping and problem-solving abilities. It seeks to stabilize acute symptoms of traumatic stress and stimulate healthy, adaptive functioning. Finally, ATSM may increase the likelihood of an individual pursuing mental health intervention, if need be, in the future.

ATSM offers techniques for connecting with particularly challenging, emotionally distraught, individuals. It helps us to help others when time is limited and to know what to say when we are at a loss for words. It helps us while intervening with diverse populations such as children, sexual assault victims, potentially violent and substance-involved individuals, as well as depressed and potentially suicidal people. It provides a strategy to support grieving individuals and offers an application to address serious injury/death notification. Finally, ATSM addresses our own responses during a crisis.

We know that people who are exposed to traumatic events experience the “Imprint of Horror”—the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations that are recorded in one’s mind during a traumatic event. These perceptions precipitate acute traumatic stress reactions and chronic stress disorders. In the same way that these negative stimuli can be etched in peoples’ minds during traumatic exposure—a period of heightened suggestibility and vulnerability, so too may the positive, adaptive forces of ATSM (e.g., active listening, empathic understanding, a supportive presence, etc.).

Comprehensive Acute Traumatic Stress Management (CATSM) reflects the expansion of the ATSM model by addressing the emergent psychological needs of individuals, groups and organizations before, during and after a traumatic event. CATSM is a Traumatic Stress Response Protocol for all people who endeavor to help others during times of crisis. By reaching people early, we can keep individuals and organizations functioning, and mitigate long-term emotional suffering.

To learn about on-site training programs, workshops and presentations, based on this publication, please visit our association president and author at www.DrMarkLerner.com






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