Thursday, September 18, 2008

Green Cross gives rescuers a mental Band-Aid

Late last month, I felt privileged to be invited to attend a course on trauma and compassion fatigue for Everett’s emergency responders. Police, firefighters, ambulance attendants, mental health workers and animal rescuers sat together to learn how to defuse and debrief people responding to assist at the scenes of unspeakable horror.

We weren’t trained to be therapists. Instead, we learned psychological first aid. Conducted by the Green Cross Academy, the two-day workshop, which earned me certification as a field traumatologist, was dynamic and practical, teaching attendees how to bring calm to people shook up by shocking images they’ve witnessed.

Mary Schoenfeldt, a public education coordinator for Everett Emergency Management and Green Cross’ international board president, shared the stage with Dr. Dan Casey, a Green Cross trainer and former wild land fire fighter, who flew in to Washington State from Minnesota for the seminar. The pair generously shared their knowledge and field experience with participants. Interactive presentations, slide shows and role-playing in small groups gave us a tool box to take into a high-stress disaster situation.

Green Cross has provided support beams to the animal rescue world in the past, such as their deployment to the Lamar Dixon temporary sheltering facility set up outside of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States. Mary Schoenfeldt was there to help. Rescuers from coast to coast are still buzzing about her team’s tireless work in the field. Green Cross counselors provided the mental patch that allowed animal rescuers to keep going back in for more despite enormous challenges.

We learned that a staggering number – 80 percent – of people exposed to a critical incident will have a reaction to it within three weeks. Through normalizing these reactions and vigilant self-care, such as proper rest, nutrition and down time, rescuers witnessing traumatic events can be brought back to stable mental health again much more quickly and painlessly.

In a field that’s shamefully underfunded by governments, mental health assistance isn’t always affordable or offered to animal rescuers despite the intense challenges they face. It’s comforting to know that with organizations like Green Cross out there, animal rescuers don’t have to suffer alone in silence.

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