Q&A: DU Helping Local Communities Affected by Wildfires
This week’s snow finally provided what Colorado’s mountains needed to help bring an end to the 2020 wildfire season. What made this year’s fire season worse than in prior years was the size of the fires — the four largest conflagrations in state history all occurred this year. Of those four fires, the East Troublesome Fire razed the most structures. More than 300 homes and between 100 and 200 secondary structures such as barns and garages were destroyed.
The Trauma and Disaster Recovery Clinic (TDRC) in the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology provides support to individuals and communities experiencing stress and trauma. Travis Heath is director of the clinic and works with individuals facing hardships. He answered some questions for the DU Newsroom regarding the trauma some Colorado communities may be experiencing and how DU can help.
When an entire community is impacted by a traumatic event, what kind of short- and long-term effect can it have?
Often folks experience a variety of stress responses in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Some people might experience acute responses that occur shortly after the trauma, while others might not develop symptoms until weeks or even months later. People might notice themselves experiencing mood swings, irritability, panic, anxiety or any number of other symptoms. I often explain to people that these responses are not abnormal at all. In fact, their brain is responding the way it should. What’s abnormal is the event that they have been through.
Does it help with the recovery effort when individuals have others in their community who have experienced similar trauma to turn to for help?
I’m glad you asked about community. Too often we think about trauma in only individualist terms. Natural disasters can have a drastic impact on social structure. It gets in the way of the way the impacted community usually functions. In can be beneficial to engage in community healing strategies, as these help people negotiate how life might look after a disaster and provide collective support as those affected step into this new reality.
How has the Trauma and Disaster Recovery Clinic supported individuals and communities in the past through difficult events?
The TDRC was established in 2014, and one of its founding principles is to serve individuals and communities who have faced adversity. Over the years, beneficiaries have been survivors of interpersonal violence, child adversity, floods, fires and identity-based violence. Support has taken the form of individual therapy, referrals and resourcing, and targeted trauma-informed training on vicarious trauma, disaster mental health and reflective consultation.
How can the TDRC support Coloradans impacted by this summer’s wildfires?
We have a team of supervisors who have done work around the world responding to trauma in a variety of ways. These supervisors are supervising a unique group of student clinicians who are training to engage in trauma-specific work. In response to those who have been impacted by the wildfires throughout the state of Colorado, we will offer free counseling services to people who have been impacted. You can set-up an appointment by phone at 303-871-3626 or at the following link: https://psychology.du.edu/clinics/trauma-disaster-recovery-clinic