Are you feeling stressed and anxious because you have witnessed a crime? Are you having a difficult time dealing with the crime you witnessed? To help understand what type of impact witnessing a crime can have on someone’s overall life and what you can do to cope with witnessing a crime, I have interviewed therapist Huyen Friedlander-Brannan LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I have an MA in Counseling Psychology from Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice office in Woodland, California. I am also a volunteer therapist with A Home Within, a non-profit organization that provides free long-term therapy for Foster Families. I completed the Professional Program in the Study of Grief and Loss at UC Berkeley. I enjoy using my knowledge of the neurobiology of attachment, EMDR, expressive arts and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction as modalities for understanding and treating trauma. I believe in an integrative approach to mental health that incorporates mind, body and spirit.”
What type of impact can witnessing a crime have on someone’s overall life?
“Witnessing a crime can magnify the belief that the world is not safe. That belief can impact all aspects of one’s life, from the ability to function at work to interfering with experiencing intimacy with a partner. Some common reactions to witnessing a crime are a heightened sense of anxiety, feelings of anger or guilt, a new awareness of vulnerability, feelings of being unsafe and a preoccupation with being cautious. People who have good social support, safe living conditions and resilient traits such as optimism will work through the impact of witnessing a crime more easily than someone who is socially isolated and continues to be exposed to dangerous situations (like living in a neighborhood with high crime rates, for example). People with a history of unresolved losses or prior exposure to trauma might be more susceptible to experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Another important factor is the individual’s reaction during the crime; did he take action (fight), was he able to get away (flight) or was he immobilized by fear and unable to help the victim (freeze)? The combination of feeling powerless while being flooded with cortisol and other neurochemicals may interfere with an individual’s ability to integrate a traumatic experience. This can contribute to the development of reoccurring nightmares, intrusive thoughts, impairment in functioning and other symptoms of PTSD.”
How can someone cope with witnessing a crime?
“If someone has witnessed a crime and is having difficulty coping, I would encourage them to find a therapist, clergy member, support group or even trusted friend who will encourage that person to express his or her feelings about the traumatic experience. To alleviate anxiety, I highly recommend Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction approaches like yoga, breath work and meditation. Sometimes channeling energy into social activism (working for victims’ rights or helping others in similar situations) can help to restore a person’s sense of power and purpose. As a clinician who uses Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) with clients, I have found it to be very effective in helping people to heal from the pain of traumatic experiences. It is hypothesized that the Dual Attention Stimulus (DAS) used during EMDR helps the client to process the information that was so overwhelming to the mind and body during the actual trauma.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who has witnesses a crime?
“I suggest contacting the local law enforcement agency or District Attorney’s office to learn what is available in your particular community. In California, a minor who has witnessed a crime may be eligible for up to $5,000 in mental health services provided by the California Victim Compensation Program. www.vcgcb.ca.gov/victims/eligibility.aspx . Check out these other Department of Justice websites to research other possible resources: www.ovc.gov/help/index.html, www.justice.gov/actioncenter/victim.html.
What advice would you like to leave for someone who is trying to cope with the impact of witnessing a crime?
“I would like to reassure someone who has witnessed a crime that feeling depressed, anxious or fearful are all normal reactions. It’s important to find a way to express your feelings so that you can process your experience and begin to feel safe once more. You are not alone. Take advantage of the resources available to you to connect with other people who can offer support.”
Thank you Huyen for doing the interview. For more information on Huyen Friedlander-Brannan or her work you can check out her website on www.huyenlmft.com.
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