Post-Traumatic Stress

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This article was prepared for the January 30, 2002 edition of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Key to Success: Resiliency

What the world needs now is more Bill and Hillary. Or

at least more of a quality the pair have in abundance. When Judy

Dowd, vice president at outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison, asks

workshop groups to name a famous person with resilience to spare,

the name that comes up first is nearly always "Bill Clinton."

Then, says Dowd, someone from the back of the room invariably pipes

up and adds, "and what about Hillary?"

"Love them, or hate them," Dowd says of the power pair,


are resilient." On Thursday, January 31, at 8 a.m. Dowd gives

a mini-workshop for HR professionals on "Developing Personal


Learning to Thrive in Ambiguity and Change" at the Novotel. Call


Dowd defines resilience as the ability to remain flexible and strong

in the midst of ambiguity and change. This quality is especially


now, she says, as companies struggle through a tough economic climate

by merging, acquiring, downsizing, and reorganizing. Some employees

are facing lay-offs, while others are looking at new roles and


responsibilities in a changing organization.

Dowd, a 1984 graduate of the College of St. Elizabeth who also holds

a master’s degree in industrial psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson

University, has been flexible in pursuing her own career goals. After

working in marketing and operations in the health care industry, and

spending time in the insurance industry, too, she realized she was

"one of those people who get restless" in their careers. But

why did she make the career choices she did? The question fascinated

her, leading her to pursue the industrial psychology degree, and to

make a career of helping other choose their careers.

Dowd’s own model of resilience is her grandmother. "She raised

her children — and helped raise her grandchildren — through

troubled times," she says. As she entered her sixth decade, and

her childcare duties began to wind down, her grandmother went back

to school, earning a nursing degree, and working until she was 80.

"Then, when she was 84, she got on a train, and came into New

York to help me with my baby," Dowd recalls.

Challenges her grandmother faced included coping with Depression-era

scarcity and war rationing. Challenges Dowd’s contemporaries face

include increasing doses of uncertainty and ambiguity. "People

have become used to change," she says. "It’s part of our


Managing change has been part of the corporate vocabulary for two

decades, but the concept, difficult as it seemed a short while ago,

is easy to cope with compared to its successor.

Now, says Dowd, workers wonder "`When is the downturn going to

turn up?’" They stew over the timing of the next merger, and


over what role they will play in a company suddenly headed in an


new direction. "It’s harder than dealing with change," Dowd

says of an environment of constant uncertainty.

One of the best ways for early-21st century man to make it through

is to emulate a Clinton, and roll with the punches by developing


resilience. Dowd’s workshop explores four of its components.

Understand yourself. Attendees fill out a resilience


to identify areas where coping mechanisms are well-developed, and

areas that might be developed. "We don’t talk about strengths

and weaknesses," says Dowd. She feels the words carry too heavy

a load of responsibility in a climate where everyone is already


People with well-developed personal coping systems might, for


have a good sense of humor, or might be able to think of both


and negatives that come with change.

Know the territory. This could involve understanding


in professions, the direction in which a company is headed, and how

roles within the company are shaking out.

Connect to resources. In sharp contrast to our frontier

ancestors, and perhaps even to the philosophy her grandmother’s peers

may have embraced, Dowd declares: "We can’t do everything


anymore. We can’t possibly be independent." Instead, it is now

important to know where to go for help, who to seek out as a mentor,

and what resources are offered by the company and by the community.

Take action. After inventorying personal and communal

resources, individuals are in a position to make changes that will

position them to move easily through a shifting work landscape. But,

warns Dowd, it is not a good idea to try to change too much at one


"We’re not suggesting to anybody that they change their

entire life in 48 hours," Dowd says. "We try to offer



Top Of Page
Post-Traumatic Stress

We had it all figured out. Life was allowed to hand

us varied ups and downs, but never any real derailments. Those


disasters were supposed to happen to the others — those separated

from us by distance or time. Then came September 11th and our


illusions burst. We not only mourned the tragedy that did strike,

but we confronted a new anxiety about the future.

Now we face a national psychological, medical, and even legal cleanup.

"Moving Past Trauma: Coping after 9-11" on Tuesday, February

5, at 5 p.m. the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory explores how

the cleanup can be achieved. The panel will explore post-traumatic

stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, then discuss the medical,

legal, and management issues involved. Speakers include psychiatrist

Naomi Vilko, a PTSD specialist; attorney Steven Berlin

of Buchanan Ingersoll PC; and addiction treatment specialist Arnold

Washton. Call 609-987-7112 or register via E-mail at Attendees are required to bring a photo ID.

Even while the World Trade Center stood proud and tall, approximately

one third of Americans were victims of limiting mental health problems

severe enough to qualify for medical treatment. This is actual,


impairment, the American Psychiatric Association hastens to add, not

just feeling blue. In productivity loss, early death, paid disability,

and substance abuse, this illness costs our nation an estimated $113

billion annually. The Domenici-Wellstone amendment to the 1996 Mental

Health Act proposed to broaden mental health insurance coverage.


recently killed the amendment.

"The Domenici-Wellstone amendment," explains Berlin,


on the heels of the 9-11 disaster brought a lot of necessary light

to a long ignored problem." The bill, aimed at fixing the


between mental and physical health care insurance payments, stated

that neither insurance companies nor employers with more than 50


could categorically limit mental health payments. "But since


with the economic downturn, no bill that puts a greater burden on

employers is greeted fondly," Berlin says. "Nonetheless it

is a disparity that must be repaired."

"Count on it, psychological trauma will prove the greatest loss

— in human or cash terms — to come out of the September 11th

debacle," warns Vilko, who initiated the February 5th seminar.

"Our trauma-induced downtime and costs have just begun to


Vilko, a native New Yorker, took her undergraduate degree at Barnard,

then received her psychiatric training at the New York Medical


For the past 22 years, Vilko has maintained offices in both Princeton

and New York, where she specializes in post-traumatic distress


and substance abuse. She is on the staff of Princeton Medical Center

and has taught at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Her son, an investment

banker with Deutsche Bank, barely escaped from the 9-11 attack.

"There is nothing vague or categorical about post traumatic stress

syndrome," insists Vilko. "It is delineated by three clearly

recognizable symptom groups." First, flashbacks and nightmares

occur, usually only for the most immediate victims. Secondly,


moves in. The victim doesn’t go out, avoids trains and public places,

and fails to communicate. The third symptom, hyper-arousal, Vilko

witnessed clearly on the subway immediately following 9-11. A single

jerk or sudden loud noise sent several crisp-suited business folk

crashing to the floor in expectation. "It was exactly the kind

of behavior one so often sees in disturbed Vietnam vets," says


Post-trauma stress symptom is an old and familiar disorder. While

the syndrome only came into official terminology in the l980s, it

pre-dates World War I shell shock. "A lot of it came to our


after Vietnam, in the form of substance abuse," says Vilko.


via drugs and alcohol can typically reach 50 percent among traumatized


"But 9-11 is unique," says Vilko, "because, unlike


we can catch the problem before the victim is beyond control."

The events were seen by millions on television. After a month, the

initial symptoms of PTSD were evident in most sufferers. A blended

treatment of medication and psychotherapy has proven quick, relatively

simple, and very effective in most cases.

The problem now becomes getting people in need to receive the


treatment, without waiting. First, we face overcoming our societal

block concerning any mental problem. Victims of flying bricks get

immediate bandaging. Victims who faced the trauma of flying body parts

should just buck up, we say, and not lower themselves like wimps to

seek any psychiatric aid. Secondly, most people fear mind-altering

medications. But Pfizer’s Zoloft and the new Paxil are reducing the

stress amazingly well with virtually no side effects.

Conversely, stalling off treatment plants a costly time bomb in


As indicated by Holocaust victim analysis, post-traumatic stress


creates a chemical imbalance not only in the victim, but passes the

imbalance on to succeeding generations. The initial cost may be


but comes due in succeeding generations.

Berlin agrees that the victims of 9-11 need immediate treatment, but

he feels that "in the first knee-jerk gush of sympathy after the

World Trade Center bombing, companies with the best of hearts adopted

some terribly wrong methods." Typically, mental health problems

in the corporate community have been handled in group sessions. While

this has some merit by addressing the problem, it frequently delays


"You would not invite all those who had suffered back trauma out

on the loading dock to come in and talk the situation over," says

Berlin. "You’d get the individuals some fast, one-on-one,


help. The same should be done with those facing emotional trauma."

The Americans with Disabilities Act linked with the New Jersey Law

Against Discrimination form a united barrier protecting workers


with physical or mental handicaps. Legally, an employee who is


perceived as disabled, or who has a disabling history (e.g. recovering

from substance abuse), must be able to return to his job without


His employer must also make reasonable accommodation for his


This baffles most employers. The legal ramifications of handling


workers are vague, but the spirit is common sense. "Treat them

as a worker returning healed from a broken leg," advises Berlin.

"It may be counter intuitive, you may want to walk on eggshells

around them, but use common sense and react normally."

The scope of the explosions of September 11th may be comparatively

minor when set against the air raids of hundreds of cities during

World War II. But this one certainly struck hard into the national

psyche. Not because we were unprepared or weak; if anything we had

taken too great a refuge in our strength. Our trauma, collective or

individual, did not spring suddenly from the destruction alone. Rather

it is layered heavily upon a lot of other problems we had not quite

gotten around to addressing. Let us hope we can use this event to

address them now.

— Bart Jackson

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