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UBuffalo Experts on Trauma and School Violence Comment on Newtown Massacre

Released: 15-Dec-2012 7:00 AM EST
Source Newsroom: University at Buffalo
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Experts on Trauma of Student Shootings Available to Discuss Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Steven L. Dubovsky, MD
Professor and Chair of Psychiatry
University at Buffalo

Dubovsky is an expert on post-traumatic stress. He has studied the Columbine, Colo., shootings and interviewed survivors of the tragedy.

“There's a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder after an event like this, and some students end up having problems with grades,” says Steven L. Dubovsky, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University at Buffalo.

“The best response in treating students and survivors depends on what resources exist within the community and how people feel about discussing what happened with outside experts,” he adds.

“When survivors are interviewed on TV about the death of friends and classmates it is rarely helpful, and sometimes harmful, because it evokes more distress and arousal without resolving anything.

“The best approach often is to strengthen the sense of community; help the students finding meaning and identify something positive coming out of the tragedy if possible.”

Amanda Nickerson, PhD
Director, University at Buffalo Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention
Associate Professor, Dept. of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology
University at Buffalo
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Nickerson’s research focuses on preventing and intervening with school crises, violence and bullying.

“It’s important that we not start talking about this as an epidemic where schools are violent places where we need to take extreme measures to protect,” says University at Buffalo faculty member Amanda Nickerson, an expert on school violence and bullying. “We need to focus on the tragedy of the situation and empathy for students, families and community.

She has also researched the critical role of schools, parents and peers in promoting social-emotional strengths of children and adolescents. Nickerson has written four books, 50 book chapters and journal articles, and has conducted more than 200 presentations. As a licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist, she is committed to translating research into effective prevention and intervention practices that promote youth strengths.

According to Nickerson, there isn’t a "profile" of a school shooter. “We do know that the study of school shooters has shown that almost all are male, and most have a history of loss, perceived failure or rejection, and mental health problems (many are depressed and suicidal, themselves). Access to firearms is also another risk factor. Given that there is no reliable profile, the recommended strategy is to use a threat assessment approach to assess the threat someone poses (based on facts, behaviors, as opposed to traits). This involves finding out the threat a person poses (plans, means to carry out plans, etc.), risk factors, protective factors.”

Surviving children and faculty are likely to be going through an extremely difficult time, Nickerson says. “With a crisis like this, it is to be expected that they will feel anger, sadness, anxiety; they may also feel numb; it is also common to have problems eating, sleeping, and concentrating. Recovery is to be expected though. These are normal reactions to tragic events. It is important for them to have accurate information about what happened and to know their reactions are normal, and to seek social support from their loved ones and community. As for parents talking to their children, I would recommend you look at the National Association of School Psychologists' resources (http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/terror_general.aspx) that emphasize the need to be available to children, answer their questions, ensure that they are safe and perceive that they are safe, limit exposure to the media coverage of the incident and try to encourage a routine. Schools do many of the same things parents do, in providing facts, answering questions, ensuring safety and encouraging a routine.”

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