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Helping Those Who Have Experienced Trauma

How to help someone in crisis

Chances are, you know someone who has been in a traumatic event. Traumatic events can be anything from past childhood abuse or neglect, being in an active shooter situation, car accident, community violence, racial and systemic trauma, unexpected medical events or injuries, birth of a child, domestic violence, natural disaster, unexpected or violent death of a loved one, or war violence.

How do you treat those who have been through this? What do you say? What do you not say? From what I have found, people have 1 of 2 approaches: They either 1) ignore it all together and act like it didn’t happen or 2) confront it head on and talk about it with those who went through it. The latter is the better option, yet doesn’t come easy for some.

How to help friends who have been in a shooting.

From someone who has been through single event trauma, here are the things I have found helpful and some things I have found, well….not so helpful!

Please Do:

  • Ask how we are doing from time to time or if whatever we have experienced happens again. Just because it happens again doesn’t necessarily mean we are a mess. We also may absolutely be a mess, and that is ok too. But just asking tells us that you care. We will either say “I am ok, thanks for asking,” which could be the truth or we will lie to you and tell you that we are ok/fine, which just means we don’t feel like talking about it. The bottom line is that we appreciate you asking.

  • Check in with us around the anniversary of our event. Anniversaries are funny things. Some are tough. Some go by just like any other day. Just sending a text that says “thinking about you” means THE WORLD to us.

  • Realize that we have PTSD. Certain sounds, smells, sights, the time of year, or simply the weather that day may take us back to a very scary moment in our lives. We will get through it, don’t worry…but just know that it may happen when least expected.

  • Offer specific help. For some people who have been recently traumatized, their view of safety has been shaken to the core. They may not feel safe going in public or doing things others do without thinking about it. Offer to get their groceries. Offer to run a specific errand, “Can I pick up/drop off your dry cleaning? Leave it on your porch and I will come by and grab it. We don’t have to chat.” Just drop dinner off and don’t ask if they want it. Text them after the fact and say “I left a little something for you on your porch.” They will decide if they want to eat it or freeze it for later. Put a gift card to a restaurant in their mailbox. They will use it…and be very grateful. These acts show us that you care, even if we don’t take you up on it.

  • Offer to call and schedule their first therapy appointment. I couldn’t do this on my own. I had to have someone do it for me. I was so traumatized that I couldn’t even get the words out without breaking down in tears (read: ugly cry). This single-handedly saved me, as it paved the way for me to go to counseling and heal.

How to help a grieving friend

  • Realize we are grieving. We are grieving the loss of our sense of safety that we took for granted until it was stolen from us. We are grieving the loss of innocence we once had. Personally, after I was involved in a school shooting, I grieved the job I loved. Work was no longer a safe place for me to go, and that was something I was not prepared to deal with (EMDR therapy helped me with this).

Please Don’t:

how to help friends.
  • Think that by bringing it up you are reminding us of something we have forgotten. We haven’t forgotten about it. Trauma is with us every day. You will not remind us that we went through it…we know it happened. Believe me.

  • Assume we are ok. We may be, but we also may not be, and that is ok too.

  • Avoid us and/or don’t ask about it. It makes us feel like you don’t care.

  • Place blame on anyone other than the person/people/institution responsible. The perpetrator(s) is/are the only one(s) at fault. Unless you work for the CBI, FBI or local law enforcement, you do not have all the facts and therefore should not draw your own conclusions and place blame.

  • Make statements such as “Well, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” This blames the victim. We were exactly where we should have been on that given day and time.

  • Think that because we were not physically injured that “nothing happened to us.” Some wounds can’t be seen. It doesn't mean they don’t exist.

How to heal after trauma

Trauma does not define who we are. It is just something horrible that happened to us, but we are working through it…30 seconds, one minute, ten minutes, one hour, one day, one month, one year at a time. Showing that you care is a simple action that can make your friend or family member’s day a better one. I hope this blog has given you permission to confront the trauma and has given you some specific suggestions on how to help us!

How We Can Help

At Catalyss Counseling, we can help. We have trauma therapists and a trained EMDR therapist on staff who can help you through your horrific experience. You are not your trauma.

If you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

We are currently enrolling for our newest group, An Intro to Mental Wellness and Counseling!

For adults who are unsure about counseling but want to learn useful skills, make changes in your life, and understand what therapy is about.

Author Biography

Jessica Walsh works behind the scenes for Catlayss Counseling, running the social media channels as well as marketing the practice. Her passion for mental health stemmed from a traumatic event, and she wishes to thank all of the mental health professionals who not only have helped her, but to all the therapists who work tirelessly to help us through the tough times life throws our way. You are true gems. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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