The ABC’s of trauma: Coping strategies from Morris County webinar

Kristin Miller, LCSW, discussed trauma online with the Morris County Human Relations Commission, July 2020. Screen shot by Marion Filler


By Marion Filler

We may not know what to call the malaise that has gripped the country. But clinical social worker Kristin Miller, an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, does.

It’s Trauma, a many-faceted condition that is her specialty.

The Rev. Alison Miller, a minister at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship who serves on The Morris County Human Relations Commission, introduced Kristin Miller, no relation, at a wide-ranging webinar last week.

Having just returned from a vigil for Amani Kildea, the young black man found hanging in Lewis Morris Park last month, the Rev. Miller said the presentation was especially timely.

“This brings us to this moment that we are experiencing right now,” the minister said, citing Kildea’s death, the coronavirus pandemic, racial disparities underscored by the police killing of George Floyd, and a sense that “our criminal justice system does not seem just.”

Professor Kristin Miller said trauma is emotional as well as physical. It can result from a one-time event, or from a continuous process that leaves you feeling powerless and unable to cope. It can affect an individual as well as an entire community.

The professor said Americans are in the middle of two traumas — COVID-19 and racism.

Everyone shares the devastation of the pandemic, but the trauma of racism is another story. Black communities have been aware of it for hundreds of years, she said, but there is a recent awakening by whites who “are first understanding the implications of racism.”

The professor used loneliness and isolation as an example. It obviously is an issue for shut-ins. But it’s also experienced by those living in a community or going to work in a place where they feel unwelcome.

Racial micro-aggressions can be challenging, Prof. Miller said. “Did the person really mean this?” The perpetrator may not be aware of being offensive.

She cited fear as common to all segments of society, as daily routines are disrupted by the threat of COVID-19. Fear of sickness and death is universal. We cannot go to work, we cannot see our loved ones. But we still can go for a walk in the park or take a ride in the car, and feel safe in our homes.

Yet it’s not the same for everyone, she said.

“African Americans feel danger day to day in normal activities,” the professor said.

Traffic stops can be deadly; Philando Castile was fatally shot while reaching for his driver’s license in 2016 in Minnesota.

So can jogging, as in the case of of Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased and killed while out for a run in Georgia.

So can doing nothing but sleeping in your own bed, like Breonna Taylor, an EMT who was shot and killed when police raided her Kentucky apartment in March.

Along with fear, there is grief. We all are grieving the end of things as we know them, Prof. Miller said. That includes the loss of loved ones, the loss of freedom to come and go as we wish. African Americans are grieving the violence they have witnessed in their communities for generations.

Prof. Miller said trauma symptoms include:

While one-time events often can be treated effectively, she said, coping mechanisms are essential for dealing with continuing trauma. The professor’s suggestions include self-reflection, physical activity, spending time in nature, writing down your thoughts and experiences, and talking to someone you trust.

Structure and routine are very helpful, spirituality can be beneficial, and so can professional help, she said. Resources include:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Text TALK to 741741

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