By Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT
The recent shooting in Parkland, Florida has brought up numerous issues, and even more questions.
- What causes school shootings?
- Is gun control the answer?
- Does mental illness lead to violence?
- What is going on with our country?
While many of these questions will go unanswered, I recently had the opportunity to speak with a school shooting survivor and ask a few myself. (Please note no name is given to protect identity.)
Can you tell me a bit about your experience? It happened 17 years ago, and to my knowledge, was the only school shooting where the perpetrator was a female. She came to school that day with 4 handguns, 377 rounds of ammunition, and put it in her locker. Then, in the middle of my second class, just as the class was about to be over, the teacher gets a call, and stands up and locks the door, and we are not allowed to leave.
Did the teacher tell you what was going on? No, nobody told us anything. Even when we were bused to a church a few miles away, they still didn’t tell us what was going on. But you know, this was before cell phones, or any of that, so even my parents didn’t know. My dad only found out because my uncle had seen it on the news and called him.
So the media knew before you or your family did? Yes, it took five hours to evacuate the whole school and take us to the church, and the whole time, we had no idea what was going on. That was the scariest part.
How was the experience for your parents? They were terrified. Nobody would tell them anything. Not even if I was okay.
So how did that day finally end? Once the whole school was in the church, the parents were finally let in to see their children, and told we could all go home.
What was it like seeing your parents again after that experience? It was huge relief. My mom was so worried. And I was just worried. I mean we had no idea what was going on.
What did your learn later about the shooter? She was girl we all knew because she was bullied. Every day, she was harassed after she got off the bus. When they interviewed her, she said she couldn’t take it anymore and she had brought the guns to school to shoot herself and let everyone see how bad she felt.
Knowing that now, do you think you would have done anything differently? I would have gotten to know her. Talk to her. You know, find about her. I don’t think anyone had reached out to her, gotten to know her at all.
You think that would have made a difference? Yes I do. Even now, looking at the Parkland shooting, all we know about him is what he has been labeled. A loner, crazy, etc. Do we really know him? Has anyone really spent time talking to him to find out why he did it?
Now that it is in the news again, what would you like to say about school shootings? We have become so selfish as people. We lack compassion. We don’t take time to get to know one another. There is no sense of community anymore. We are not sensitive to the pain of others. We don’t think about the sanctity of life anymore.
What do you think is the biggest problem we face when it comes to mass shootings? The media. Definitely the media. In my experience – even 17 years ago – they were in front of my school every morning for two weeks. Some mornings the vice principle would have to escort us in and shield us from them. Now, they make the shooter into a celebrity. But they also spread so many incorrect ideas. Like the AR-15 being an assault rifle. It’s not, and in fact, because it takes longer to load than a handgun, you could kill more people in a short amount of time with two handguns than one AR-15. But nobody hears that message. And even worse, what happens is that for people who are likely to turn to violence, the media attention makes them have to up the ante each time, so as the killings go on, they become more severe. You know, this is not a gun issue, it’s a people issue. We used to have guns in schools. Some schools even had gun ranges. The guns have always been there, but now we are different.
What advice would you give to people going through a mass shooting? Turn off the media. Stop watching the news. Find out for yourself what is going on. Spend time with your kids, your community. If you see a kid struggling, reach out to them instead of labeling them. I know of one school who implemented a yoga and meditation program to deal with violence and aggression, and it dramatically lowered acts of violence. Like I said, it’s not a gun issue, it’s a people issue.
Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in post-traumatic growth, optimal performance, and wellness. She is licensed to practice in California and Colorado. Claire earned her BS in Kinesiology and worked as a personal trainer for years before becoming a course developer for International Sports Science Association. Claire is always thinking about ways to improve physical fitness and nutrition as a modality for improving mental health. She also writes in her popular blog, Leveraging Adversity on Psychcentral.
Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Course:
Counseling Victims of Mass Shootings is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE) course that gives clinicians the tools they need to help their clients process, heal, and grow following the trauma of a mass shooting.
Sadly, mass shootings are becoming more widespread and occurring with ever greater frequency, often leaving in their wake thousands of lives forever changed. As victims struggle to make sense of the horror they have witnessed, mental health providers struggle to know how best to help them. The question we all seem to ask is, “Why did this happen?”
This course will begin with a discussion about why clinicians need to know about mass shootings and how this information can help them in their work with clients. We will then look at the etiology of mass shootings, exploring topics such as effects of media exposure, our attitudes and biases regarding mass shooters, and recognizing the signs that we often fail to see.
We will answer the question of whether mental illness drives mass shootings. We will examine common first responses to mass shootings, including shock, disbelief, and moral injury, while also taking a look at the effects of media exposure of the victims of mass shootings.
Then, we will turn our attention to the more prolonged psychological effects of mass shootings, such as a critical questioning and reconsideration of lives, values, beliefs, and priorities, and the search for meaning in the upheaval left in the wake of horrific events. This course will introduce a topic called posttraumatic growth, and explore the ways in which events such as mass shootings, while causing tremendous amounts of psychological distress, can also lead to psychological growth. This discussion will include topics such a dialectical thinking, the shifting of fundamental life perspectives, the opening of new possibilities, and the importance of community. Lastly, we will look at the exercises that you, the clinician, can use in the field or office with clients to promote coping skills in dealing with such horrific events, and to inspire psychological growth, adaptation, and resilience in the wake of trauma. Course #31-09 | 2018 | 47 pages | 20 posttest questions
Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).
Target Audience: Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapist (MFTs), Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), Occupational Therapists (OTs), Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), School Psychologists, and Teachers