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On the Complexities of Volunteering Time and Resources to Newtown

17 Dec

It’s hard to wish everyone a happy holiday with such insanity swirling around us.  This latest tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School defies words, as many have already said.  But all of us here at Health Journeys wish all of you peace and healing nonetheless, after this latest national tragedy.  

We got several concerned notes last week, asking us to please donate our guided imagery to those affected by the tragic and unimaginable events in Newtown.  One person wrote,

I am writing to ask if you would make yourself or your media available to the families and little ones of Newtown, Conn.  I have had such wonderful success with your guided imagery and healing words I would hope you could send some CDs to the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I know your words could help to bring peace and comfort to many others if you could find it in your heart to make it readily available. Thank you for giving yourself to so many who need you in this troubled world.

First, let me just say that there isn’t a staff person at Health Journeys who doesn’t find it in his/her oversized heart to help in some way.  We are always deeply glad to be able to create a web page with free streams and downloads for survivors of tragedies.  And we’ve done so for those impacted by Katrina, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Chardon High School. (A sample of the page we built for Chardon survivors is here.) 

Before that, we gave cassette tapes (remember those?) and CDs to survivors and first responders from Columbine High and 9/11.

Sadly we’ve had way too many opportunities to learn about how and when to do this.

And what we’ve come to understand is that, sadly, it's not so simple. These stunned, grieving, traumatized folks get inundated with offers of help from all over the place. Some are not helpful at all.  Some would be helpful if the timing were different.  Some are more about the distress of the person offering than what’s needed by those affected.  

Some offers are just more trouble than they're worth.  All must be carefully vetted and screened, at a time when it's all anyone can do – mental health professionals included - to just get through the day, taking care of what they’re supposed to be managing… even with the best intentions in the world.

Without somebody from within the system knowing us and inviting us to contribute, we would be building a page for nobody -  a ‘bridge to nowhere’, to borrow a phrase.
 
And, mind you, even when we do get assistance for getting through the door (as we did thanks to Jeanine Ellison, a longtime colleague friend who was a school psychologist in the Columbine district; from Claudia Strauss at the Red Cross at Ground Zero; some New Orleans social workers after Katrina; my old boss, John De Fee on the Fairfax County Mental Health Board after Virginia Tech; Virginia Maizes from the U of Arizona’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship in Tucson and Mario Tonti, the director of Beech Brook, the lead mental health agency for Chardon High, it doesn’t always mean we can be so effective.  

Sometimes we are; sometimes not so much.  Sometimes we never get to find out whether we were or weren’t, because it’s such a maelstrom of system-wide distress.  

Even when I’ve been able to go out on site and provide in-service training and answer parents’ and staff questions about how a technique like guided imagery can be helpful, it still tends to be underutilized.
 
So what we can do is put the word out that we would be glad to do it.  But we know we need access from the inside to be effective.  And the timing needs to be right – for the people affected, not us.  

If you know somebody from the school system or the community, with some decision-making power, who you think would be interested in what we could offer, please pass this along.  We’re here and we’re glad to help.  But we won’t be imposing our reactive kindness on that devastated town just to be doing something.

Love and prayers to and for all,

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award