Impact of Media Exposure to Violence

Impact of Media Exposure to Violence

When we talk about trauma and the media, there are three trends that emerge:

  • First, the frequency and severity of mass shootings have been increasing.
  • Second, the reporting on these forms of violence has become more widespread and more sensationalized.
  • Third, we are now spending as much as 15.5 hours per day consuming media in some form (Short, 2016).

Now, more than ever, we are surrounded by a frightening array of violent stimuli.

From the smartphone videos that went viral after the Parkland school shooting to the ongoing media images of 911, media portrayals of traumatic events are fast becoming a guaranteed part of any traumatic experience in this country.

Yet as much as we are exposed to the often horrific images, videos, and, in the case of victims, interviews of themselves, do we really know the psychological effect that media exposure has on both the witnesses and victims of such events?

Research has indicated that:

  • Reporting on violence appears to have long-lasting effects on psychological health, including increased risk of PTSD – even as much as seven years later.
  • Exposure to graphic media images spread the impact of collective trauma widely – increasing the risk of both acute and chronic stress, and making traumatic experience live on. Yet, despite the negative consequences, we are often drawn to violent media – in movies and news – as a way to better understand ourselves, and perhaps avenge those who have done harm.
  • While viewing violent media causes changes in our brains and behavior, such as increased risk of aggression and reduced behavioral inhibition, for victims of crime the effects are especially pronounced. These include feelings of violation, loss of control, humiliation and shame.

There are, however, several ways that informed clinicians can not only help victims make sense of what happened to them, but also put the pieces of lives back together in ways that help them find meaning, purpose, and strength through their experiences:

  • Media exposure after mass trauma only leads to less clarity and more confusion about the event. Therefore, one of the best ways clinicians can help victims after a mass trauma is to encourage them to reduce or eliminate exposure to media coverage of the event.
  • Sleep plays an important role in recovering from mass trauma by reducing the intensity and frequency of recurring emotional memories, and should be encouraged by clinicians when working with victims of mass trauma, especially when it becomes public.
  • Having their clients write about their experiences is a powerful tool clinicians can use when working with victims. Research has shown that when victims write about a mass trauma – as opposed to viewing media coverage – especially using introspective and positive emotional words, not just do they feel better, but have better long-term outcomes physically and psychologically.
  • Community engagement after a mass trauma plays a critical role in restoring a sense of connection, support, and aids in the crucial cognitive processing of the event and is something that should be encouraged by clinicians when working with victims of trauma.

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Course excerpt from:

Psychological Effects of Media ExposurePsychological Effects of Media Exposure is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that explores the psychological effects that media exposure has on both the witnesses and victims of traumatic events.

This course will explore why we are so drawn to traumatic events and how media portrayals of these events influence our thoughts, conclusions, and assumptions about them. It will then discuss how the intersection of trauma and media has evolved to provide a place for celebrity-like attention, political agendas, corporate positioning, and even the repackaging, marketing, and selling of grief.

Lastly, the course will look at the interventions and exercises clinicians can use to help their clients understand the effects of trauma becoming public, how to protect themselves, and most importantly, how to recover from traumatic experience – even when it becomes public. Course #21-23 | 2018 | 44 pages | 15 posttest questions

Course Directions

This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document).

CE Information

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors (#MHC-0135); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678); and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

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