In the pre-dawn hours of April 18, 1906 one of the largest natural disasters in the U.S. took place killing over three thousand persons. This was not the result of war. Rather, it was the San Francisco earthquake estimated to be about a 7.8 magnitude estimated by today’s Richter scale rating. As a result of this earthquake, commercial buildings toppled, houses collapsed and shifted from their foundations, water mains and gas lines were twisted and ruptured. This earthquake in California was felt along the quake-line from about 300 miles north to south. Within a five mile radius of the epicenter, more than 28,000 structures were totally decimated by explosions, blasts, and fires. In the aftermath about 80% of San Francisco was destroyed. Over half of the city’s population (approximately 400,000) souls perished. Persons were left homeless and thousands were listed as missing.
As we prepare for the next natural and un-natural disaster how easily we have forgotten the cataclysmic event that took place on December 26, 2004 where a Tsunami and earthquake, registering 9.0 off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, injured and claimed the lives of millions of people. To date, thousands have not been found in 14 countries that were affected such as Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Where did all the disaster mental health counselors, international volunteers, angels, and earthly saints go that descended upon these countries? Did they have to retreat back home for the sake of their own emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? Who has taken their place? The desolation left in the aftermath of these particular critical events creates a sort of historical trauma among world cultures.
The Zombie Apocalypse on U.S. Soil
Even a Zombie apocalypse does not compare to catastrophic natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires. The significant loss, grief, emotional and psychological trauma associated with such critical events are much like war. How easily some of us have forgotten the horrific terrorist attacks of Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 that left emotional, physical, spiritual, and environmental scars upon our minds, bodies, spirits, of American culture.
As American’s prepare for the next attack on U.S. soil we cannot take our eyes off such critical events as fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, drought, earthquakes, school shootings, bombings at sporting events, biological epidemic and pandemics viral attacks, and socio-political-civil unrest. There are other-worldly alien entities in the universe that could harm us also. All critical incidents require our complete and full attention. It necessitates a high level of empathy and compassion towards survivors of such traumatic events. As mental health professionals, we are constantly in a state of natural and un-natural disaster preparedness. A Zombie Apocalypse could potentially be just around the corner hiding in the shadows.
As a consequence, we have the potential to be emotionally, socially, physically, spiritually, and vocationally exhausted. I would propose that many of us are experiencing empathy fatigue; a construct I coined and delineated in the research beginning in 1998. Empathy fatigues results from the mental, emotional, psychological, medical, physical, and spiritual exhaustion as a direct consequence of providing services at the most intense levels of human suffering. The ensuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, South American, North Africa, and the fight against multiple terror groups, many that have not surfaced yet, are all constant reminders of how fragile our physical safety, mental health, and overall well-being can be. For many, planet earth does not appear to be a safe place to live because of the multitude of natural, un-natural, and person-made disasters.
A World at War
The foundation of wars that are fought have only three rules: 1. Bring a weapon; 2. Bring all your friends and family members with weapons; and 3. There are no winners and losers- humans must hunt, kill, or be killed themselves. As many warfighters will tell you “there is a cost to killing another human being”. Failure to respond to a world at war is not an option. However, the consequence of warfighting harms our mind, body, spirit, and quality-of-life in the United States.
Globally, wars have accelerated within the last 17 years since 9/11. Statistically, the majority of deaths that occur during times of war do not involve military personnel. Rather, 90% comprise civilian casualties. Since World War II there have been 127 different wars fought globally with over 40 million civilian deaths. World War II alone was responsible for over 27.3 million civilian casualties. There have been over 5.4 million civilian deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo; 2 million civilian deaths related to the Khmer Rouge killing fields; 2 million civilian deaths in Rwanda; and 200,000 civilian deaths from the Bosnian civil war in the Balkins. Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn, have resulted in over 210,000 civilian casualties.
Thank You for Your Service: The CMCC Program
My professional life was inspired by my own experiences in disaster mental health and trauma counseling with both civilian and military populations. I have been both a counselor educator, researcher, and practitioner that has been trained in various trauma therapies, disaster mental health, critical incident, and group crisis response models. I have facilitated these approaches with persons and organizations who have been at the epicenter of war, natural, and person-made disasters. There are very few models which understand the military culture. Thus, this inspired the Clinical Military Counselor Certificate (CMCC) training program which I developed to help address the unique needs of military service members and their families.
So how do we come out of the darkness and into the light bringing new meaning and understanding of specific clinical approaches that translate well into providing services to the military culture? How can we take our current clinical training and translate this into the cultural lens of the veterans’ experiences of combat deployments? What are some unique cultural differences within the military define the men and women that have serve in support of combat operations? How can we facilitate good emotional, social, physical, psychological, spiritual, and occupational well-being of active duty service members, veterans, veterans with disabilities, and family members? These are just some questions that will be answered in the CMCC training program.
Thus, it is my intention that mental health and other behaviorally-trained professionals acquire the knowledge, awareness, and skills to work optimally with active duty service members, veterans, veterans with disabilities, and family member. The CMCC training approach provides a unique resource guide with practical application for counselor educators, graduate students, mental health and other behaviorally-related practitioners that will prepare them to meet the intense challenges of military mental health for the 21st century. The CMCC program particularly honors the collective wisdom of military cultural practices, mission objectives, and philosophical orientations from a variety of resources. Participants will gain the knowledge and skills in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of military personnel and their family members.