School Shootings, PTSD and Concentration Camp Survivor Syndrome

In one of the venues in which I have practiced in the last 40 years of as a psychiatrist, I was asked to be a member two decades ago in a large city’s psychiatric/mental health trauma team by my partner at the time. He had served on the ‘team’ for some years and wished to give it up. He offered it to me and with my usual gung ho attitude of never turn a chance down to do something new and different, I assented to his offer and was accepted into the inter-agency body upon his recommendation. I underwent all sorts of training but mainly working with victims of mass hostage situations, shootings in public places, and mass industrial or urban accident scenes with the visual presence of much death and human destruction. To date myself, this work occurred over 20 years ago when the post office employees were cutting loose in fits of rage and shooting up large post offices, killing supervisors and fellow employees. Some of the situations involved angry employees who took customers hostage in numbers at their places of employment whether manufacturing plants or large retail stores in large malls. To be sure, all of these situations involved adult perpetrators not children. Our teams of mental health ‘first aid’ workers, or as they are now called, ‘first responders,’ primarily focused on separating victims and shocked witnesses away from the scenes of their spells of captivity,  of being hostages, when permitted by law enforcement and then debriefing them gently to start the painful process of ventilating the toxic and seemingly impossible feelings so that our follow up private office counselling could continue later.

I had a special interest in these issues that jumped up into my conscious realization of what my initially unaware or “unconscious” motives were as I underwent the initial training sessions. I was interested in the victims’ experiences of being traumatized since I had been an early to middle teenager. It was not that I had been abused myself. My motivations were  much more esoteric and farther removed from the growing wave of revenge motivated violence we see now in this country, now having filtered down to middle elementary school students who are often as angry as the begrudging adult mass shooters.

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