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Post-9/11 trauma lingers

More than three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, serious trauma lingers.


"It’s all aimed at processing trauma received on Sept. 11."

—Emily Kohman

More than three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, serious trauma lingers.

What's more, some people are hesitant to come forward with emotional problems because so much time has passed, say mental health professionals.

“People might say ‘it is three-and-a-half-years later, get over it’ – but that prevents them from coming forward,” said Emily Kohman, counselor for Safe Horizon – a New York City agency that provides victim assistance, violence prevention programs, and advocacy, as well as counseling to people impacted by Sept. 11.

“Some may think it’s not natural to be so delayed, but it is," said Kohman. "It takes a while for these things to come to the surface.”

Kohman said while the Safe Horizon caseload has dropped off over time, there are definitely people still in need.

The organization has a family assistance center in every borough of the city. Along with individual counseling, group counseling is available for Ground Zero rescue workers, those who lost family members, employees who lost coworkers, and others who are still seeing emotional fallout from the attacks.

“We’re open and able to create groups for anybody,” explained Kohman. “It’s all aimed at processing trauma received on Sept. 11.”

The number of groups still offering Sept. 11-related mental health assistance has dwindled, but members of the remaining organizations say that has helped them strengthen the network.

“There’s a good network of organizations helping,” said Dr. Tracy Simon, licensed clinical psychologist and director of the Sept. 11 Counseling Program at the Karen Horney Psychoanalytic Center in New York City. “There’s now a very fluid back and forth referral process. We all know where to send people now.”

Simon’s program offers free intake and evaluation of clients. Once clients are deemed eligible, she explained, they receive 10 free psychotherapy sessions and a psychiatric consultation. From there, if a client still needs counseling, Simon said the program will offer treatment based on a sliding payment scale or help the client find funding for the counseling.

The Sept. 11 Counseling Program still receives three or four new clients each week, according to Simon. “We are still doing outreach and networking with other groups. It’s hard to say how long we’ll keep getting patients, but we do see an influx around important dates and anniversaries.”

Another program helping city residents is the 9/11 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Program, funded by the American Red Cross and the Mental Health Association of New York City (MHANYC).

The program connects residents with the appropriate mental health agencies, as well as assisting them in the funding of their mental health treatment. “It’s a way to remove financial barriers to treatment,” noted Gerald McCleery, associate executive director of MHANYC. Prospective clients can come into their office, or use their toll-free number to get help.

“We hear from 200 to 300 new people each month,” said McCleery. “That number is down a bit, but not by a lot. The demand is still there.”

To help children impacted by Sept. 11, Safe Horizon also offers the Child and Adolescent Trauma Treatment Services (CATTS) program. "(CATTS) provides services to kids impacted by trauma – which definitely includes 9/11, but also includes things like abuse,” explained Karen Manasse, director of CATTS.

Manasse said while the focus of the program is not Sept. 11, a counseling program can’t exclude it. “Even if it isn’t the primary reason the child is here, it’s amazing how many do have some significant 9/11 piece to their issues.

“Many times, how the (child’s) caregiver handles it influences how the kid handles it. And also, 9/11 could’ve touched off prior trauma in the child’s life. People are compositive – you can’t just pick one thing, which is why we don’t narrow down our focuses.”

The program directors agreed that they often see a correlation between disaster anniversaries, news events, and the amount of new clients they see.

“(People) are traumatized everyday by living in New York, as well as by news about bomb threats or other things,” said Kohman. “Some people are still afraid of going into the subway. It’s become difficult for many people.”

The group also agreed that the mental health community has done an effective job of being available to the public for counseling and treatment.

“There’s been a pretty good job of coordination and coverage of this issue,” said McCleery. The group also applauded the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Project Liberty,” which was created post-Sept. 11 to address initial mental health needs. “I’m very pleased it was done with both a short-term view and a long-term view of the situation,” McCleery added.

The coordination and networking initially encouraged by Project Liberty continues today even though Project Liberty is no longer in effect. Most of the agencies still offering mental health services do outreach to local schools, businesses, and the religious community. New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) works closely with some of the mental health organizations as well.

The agencies all offered advice on identifying signs that someone may need some counseling and treatment. Experts advised people to look for symptoms such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia, isolation, withdrawal and flashbacks. These symptoms can also be tied to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Related Topics:

When is public violence terrorism?

Terrorism wave proves challenging

Counseling, prayers offered in bombing wake

More links on September 11 2001

More links on Terrorism


Related Links:

Safe Horizon

Karen Horney Clinic

9/11 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Program

New York Disaster Interfaith Services

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