Clinical psychologist Mark D. Lerner discussed how individuals can help and support victims of traumatic events at a University Counseling Center presentation Friday in the Marvin Center.
Lerner helped write “A Practical Guide for University Crisis Response” and is president of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress He has also worked with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security.
Lerner’s presentation, which aimed at raising awareness about suicide prevention and crisis management, was funded by a three-year federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said John Dages, senior associate director of the UCC.
GW is one of 22 universities to obtain this competitive federal grant, he said. The money has also been used to help fund workshops to educate about suicide prevention, programming which has been running since September 2005.
The presentation, titled “Campus Crises, Campus Stress: Empowering the University Community to Respond to Traumatic Events,” offered two sessions and was free and available to all students, faculty and staff.
Lerner’s interactive presentation focused on how to help individuals during traumatic events, not just afterwards. He reminded program participants that “friends and peers can help trauma victims, not just therapists.”
While Lerner’s methods provide a structure for crisis response, he emphasized that universities must focus on dealing with the “process” of crisis. In other words, Lerner said, we must be concerned with not only extremely traumatic crises, such as suicide, terrorist attacks or assaults, but also “the day-to-day crises that individuals deal with.”
The UCC has seen a steady increase over the year of students requesting counseling, said a senior director at the center.
“Over the last year as well as the last five years, there has been a steady increase in demand for UCC outreach (and counseling) programs,” Dages said.
“Most students are seen for short-term counseling, usually for depression or adjustment related issues,” Dages said. “But some students come in for treatment for suicidal feelings as well.”
Janine Beha, a senior, said she attended the event because she is a peer educator at the counseling center.
“I felt it was a very informative presentation,” Beha said. “I could definitely see myself using these methods in my life and at the counseling center.”
Beha added that she particularly liked Lerner’s idea of the Five D’s for dealing with crisis – Distraction, Disruption, Diffusion, Decisions and Direction.
“This method is used to break the intensity of a victim’s emotional response, can offer choices for immediate actions and helps prepare the victim for the future,” Beha said.
Junior Lisa Ramadhar, also a peer educator, said she felt the presentation was worthwhile.
“I think suicide is a big issue at GW. We don’t talk about it as much as we should, or how to deal with it on campus,” Ramadhar said. “We do need more outreach programs and workshops to practice dealing with crises.”
Dages said all counseling is confidential, unless issues like homicide or intent to commit suicide are discussed, a policy consistent with D.C. law.
The Hatchet reported last February that a former student filed suit against eight University officials, the University and GW Hospital claiming that GW unfairly suspended him from classes and barred him from campus after he sought treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts at the UCC.
The accuser, Jordan Nott, claimed the University unfairly discriminated against him because he had a mental illness and that GW Hospital shared confidential medical information with the University, which led to his dismissal from the school.
The University denied any wrongdoing in the case, which drew attention from local and national media.