Some still fear terrorism

Some people still struggle with the horror of a terrorist attack every day.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BETHESDA, Md. | January 23, 2003

"Most of these people have post-traumatic stress symptoms."

—Dr. Beryce MacLennan

The terrorist attack on the Pentagon may have happened more than a year ago but to some in the D.C. area the horror of the event is something they struggle with every day.

Some have panic attacks or unnatural fears of planes flying overhead. Some suffer from depression. Some are increasingly worried a future terrorist attack may come any day.

There has been no shortage of "triggers" to set off new panic attacks: the D.C. area sniper attacks, the possibility of a war with Iraq, and the indeterminate fear of future terrorist attacks, according to Dr. Beryce MacLennan, a psychologist specializing in trauma recovery.

MacLennan and Dr. Maureen Kelly run a weekly group psychotherapy session out of Kelly's Bethesda, Md. office. When it first started the session had about seven members. Now the group has dwindled to between three and five, so MacLennan has posted advertisements in local papers in order to attract others who may still need counseling.

The New York-based American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) funds the therapy session, along with another D.C.-based session led by Trish Cleary, a certified mental health counselor. The AGPA also sponsors sessions in New York and Boston for people traumatized by the Sept. 11 attacks.

MacLennan's group includes "people who were so upset they were not able to work," she said. "Most of these people have post-traumatic stress symptoms. They may have flashbacks to the event; they may have panic attacks."

MacLennan said the group session allows participants to realize their experiences are not singular.

"It's not abnormal to have these sorts of stress reactions to these kinds of traumatic situations," MacLennan said. The group psychotherapy, she said, "helps people feel less abnormal and less alone that there are other people who are having the same experiences."

With the help of the group, participants try to identify what triggers their panic attacks, and also work through more mundane concerns, such as finding jobs and figuring out their futures.

"We get people acquainted with each other and they talk about what their problems are and what their experiences have been."

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