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Argenta explosion: 'It's essential to remember everyone copes with things differently'

Counseling Services director offers insight into how we can help others, and ourselves, in dealing with Argenta explosion

The following information was taken from an interview with Jacqueline Pistorello, Ph.D., director of Counseling Services and is provided to help the campus in the wake of the Friday, July 5, explosion that damaged Argenta and Nye Halls, injuring eight people. More than 200 students living in Argenta were re-located to Peavine Hall.

Pistorello offered the following insight and advice for individuals who wish to help others, and to those who were affected by the explosion:

"It makes things trickier, but it's essential to remember that everyone copes with things differently. With events like this, we've learned over the years to allow people to cope in ways that they know work for them. Some may want to return to the comfort of their daily routines immediately. Some may want to sit down and talk about how they are feeling. All of that is OK. The research shows that mandating people to debrief feelings right away can be a harmful thing to do."

"Don't make the discussions mandatory. Say, ‘I'm here to talk if you need to talk.' Sometimes instead of a 'sit down talk,' people might be more comfortable going for a walk, or going to lunch-engaging in an activity together. Sometimes people need time to process things before they are ready to talk, and that's why it's often important to take that middle path-acknowledging the pain and the loss and also giving people the space to process things at their own pace."

"There are different experiences and different types of trauma for people. Images can trigger a past trauma history, for example. We need to be careful that we don't invalidate a person's experience, and need to be careful about saying things like, ‘Why are you struggling? You weren't even there.'"

"Having social support, having people around you who care, people who listen and who take the time to be present for you, helps us get through challenges like this. It's not just about sending people to counseling. It's students supporting students, faculty supporting students, faculty supporting faculty. It's the feeling that a caring network and the village that is our campus has your back."

"It's not just what happened, it's the perception of the event. There are people who were in the building five minutes before the explosion occurred. They are well aware that they might have been in the building and killed or injured. That realization would frighten anybody. It's very important to acknowledge that and to let people process what might've been. This can be helpful in allowing the person to then move on. Again, it's not just the physical occurrence of the event. It's how one's individual history and coping resources interact with it."

"In terms of coping, staying emotionally and cognitively flexible, using mindfulness to notice one's own reactions and to bring oneself back to the present moment, while focusing on "What matters to me most?" can help individuals recover and return to baseline functioning. When you have lost all your possessions, for example, what is that matters most to you in that moment? For some, it might be connecting to people, for others it may be returning to a routine. Values can be like a rope to solid ground when you are in the middle of a swamp-it guides you to what matters."

"We need each other. It's important that people bear witness to our pain and acknowledge our pain. If we move on too quickly, it can feel invalidating. On the other hand, it's also important to go back to daily routines as soon as possible-it provides comfort. On a group level, we need to acknowledge and appreciate that every person is different, and that there are various types of pain associated with an event like this. There's not just physical pain. When we move towards validating another person's experience, with encouragement towards living life with vitality, we can bring some semblance of normalcy to one's life, and help them get on with their life."

(Editor's note: Counseling Services can be reached at 775-784-4648; the Crisis Call Hotline is 775-784-8090.)

Jacque Pistorello

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