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How Counselors Assist Survivors of Terrorism Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 3rd, 2021


Tragic occurrences, for instance, Sri Lanka terrorist attacks, arouse fear, anger, and other traumatizing emotions in survivors. The role of a counselor is crucial because he/she undertakes the task of making other people’s lives worthwhile and experiences comfortable. Most of the approaches increasingly being employed by counselors put a great significance on concerns such as consciousness, accountability, and a feeling of concern for other people’s problems (McCurry, 2019). While assisting survivors, therapists should treasure their feelings while making assumptions, asking questions, and developing processes of dealing with their distresses.

Counselors seek to comprehend the decisions made by survivors of terrorist attacks to form a strong basis for neutralizing their pain (Charney, Hellberg, Bui, & Simon, 2018). This is realized by keenly listening to the disturbing needs of survivors while they are describing any experience in detail as most encounters of terrorism involve mistreatment or hostility. Friendliness and gentleness are key values that a counselor should possess. They should be pleasant and act soberly to grant clients a relaxed environment that encourages openness. Counseling could be facilitated by creating a welcoming impression that promotes effective communication and confession.

Counseling Survivors of Terrorist Attacks

Although survivors and family members of victims have the greatest risk of suffering stress and depression after terrorist attacks, even the people who are just watching the occurrences either firsthand or on television may become psychologically affected. Such people may be horrified and end up anxious. Surviving terror attacks dampen one’s personal feelings of safety and security (Storrs, 2015). In the survivors, emotions may vary from intense anger to a sense of being detached from normal life. They might experience physical symptoms, for instance, insomnia, stomachache, and mental disorders, which can worsen with time if not effectively addressed early enough.

Acts of terrorism and mass shootings may be harder for survivors to cope with when compared to natural disasters such as earthquakes since they usually develop intense fear or the need to place culpability on someone and get vengeance. Feeding such emotions into their anger gradually results in mental health problems. Moreover, such occurrences often affect the entire community and make it difficult for most individuals to recover a sense of normalcy in their lives.

The good thing is that the majority of such people are able to get back to their normal senses after going through counseling. Studies affirm that between 29% and 61% of survivors of terrorist attacks experience post-traumatic stress disorder (Charney et al., 2018). Nevertheless, with effective counseling, they regain their psychological well-being. It is advisable that people consult counselors if they in any way feel that they might be encountering severe stress and other psychological problems associated with the experience of tragedies such as mass shootings. Although it may be normal to develop a myriad of emotions in response to such incidences, finding trouble regaining normal routine in a few days may be a signal that one needs to seek therapy.

Grief counselors usually embark on some practices in the process of assisting survivors of traumatic events. For instance, after ensuring that the survivors’ need for food or drink is addressed, they may ask them how stressed they feel. One of the initial things that a counselor does when in a session with survivors of terrorist attacks is to assess their degree of distress (Glad, Thoresen, Hafstad, & Dyb, 2018). The counselor usually requests such clients to rate their intensity of stress on a scale of 1 to 10, where one signifies that they just have minimal distress while ten indicates that they feel devastated and the issue is beyond control.

After a thorough assessment, the counselor informs clients of the possible approaches that may be employed to address their distress and nervousness. For instance, the therapist may talk about deep breathing methods such as box breathing where one counts up to four as they profoundly inhale and slowly exhale. Other techniques would be grounding practices, which may entail the description of items in the room as a way of helping the client come to the present and be in touch with reality (Charney et al., 2018).

Close to the conclusion of the session and after the application of the selected technique, the counselor requests clients to gauge the degree of their distress once more. Though they typically feel a lesser intensity of stress than at the start of the session, the counselor wants to ensure that clients do not leave feeling very distressed, which could be because of discussing the events and arousing traumatizing memories.

In the course of a counseling session, the therapist asks clients to describe their experiences and the manner in which their normal lives have been influenced by the trauma. For instance, the counselor could pose a question like: “If one was watching a film of your life since the occurrence of the terrorist attacks, what would he/she see?” Such questions have the capacity to dig out the underlying serious issues such as suicidal ideations or engagement in drug use in an attempt to forget the occurrences, which are common concerns in post-traumatic stress disorder (Storrs, 2015). If severe problems are discovered, a counselor prioritizes them.

The counselor asks clients to talk about what they saw or heard during the incident. At this point, although the therapist tries to create a favorable environment, it is fully up to the survivor to either choose to open up and recount the occurrences or not. Sensory experiences such as the sight of many people being shot mercilessly in a row or the loud sound of a bomb going off accompanied by human body parts flying in the air are potentially traumatic.

Moreover, their possibility of causing acute stress or lasting post-traumatic stress disorder is very high (Charney et al., 2018). For survivors who saw their loved ones being shot or murdered cruelly, the experience is tragic and may elicit bitterness and revenge sensations.

The counselor may want to understand how clients feel about their emotions. A significant point in the session is for the therapist to help survivors of terrorist attacks recognize that their emotions are common and they will soon overcome them. They should understand that being extremely angry or bitter is fine, and seeking assistance is the best step of making sure that such emotions do not get in the way of their life. Nevertheless, in instances where clients choose to deal with their emotions by attacking their partners, engaging in drug use, or wanting to commit suicide, there is a serious problem that needs quick intervention (Weinberg, Besser, Zeigler-Hill, & Neria, 2018). In such cases, the feelings are fine but the actions are not.

What Facilitates Effective Counseling?

Any attempt to mull over the factors that facilitate effective counseling should focus on the attributes of counselors that should be applied in the process and method used in a given session to make it as successful as possible. While counseling survivors of terrorist attacks, counselors identify that every session has a great impact on clients, their children, family members, as well as people close to them (Hamblen, Norris, Symon, & Bow, 2017). This is attributable to counseling influencing survivors’ emotions and their psychological wellbeing. Therapists have great accountability to the welfare of every client and face the reality that a successful session has numerous extensive impacts and further accomplishments.

Confidentiality and prevention of self-harm and vengeance are critical factors in an effective counseling session. The therapist first ensures that clients feel relaxed and secure that confidentiality will be upheld at all times and the counselor is fully dedicated to assisting, supporting, and encouraging them. The therapist’s relationship with survivors of terrorist attacks and his/her conscience influence effectiveness since counselors have to feel that they did their best to remain satisfied with their work (Glad et al., 2018).

The questions of how they did their work, the level of survivors’ distress after the session, and the overall influence of counseling to the lives of clients encourage therapists not just to rely on their academic qualifications but also their behavior and abilities. For instance, it is important for counselors to show a positive recognition of the survivors of terrorist attacks. They should make such clients feel valued and respected. Therapists should also demonstrate obligation to clients’ ideals such as a sense of worth, personal suffering, and diversity.

To ensure successful therapy, the counselor should develop and enhance social support. This could be through promoting the client’s relationship with friends, relatives, other survivors, or members of a religious group. It is vital to center on self-care and, for survivors of terrorist attacks, this may mean just having enough time to sleep, eat, and interact with friends (Weinberg et al., 2018). Another way that counselors can promote self-care is by encouraging the survivors to take a news break for about two months after the event to make sure that they are not continually reminded of the traumatic experience.

The ultimate objective is to help clients create a normal daily routine free of overwhelming distress despite the existence of grief, even though it may be a bit different from their earlier practice before the event. When suffering distress, the painful experience keeps lingering in the survivor’s mind thus exacerbating the problem. Nevertheless, with a few counseling sessions, the excruciating memory gradually fades out and the survivor is relieved from its negative psychological effect.


Traumatic events such as the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks provoke fear, anger, and other distressing sentiments in survivors, which call for professional counseling. Sociability and gentleness are crucial values that a therapist should embrace. Moreover, counselors should be friendly, warm-hearted, and create a welcoming impression to generate a relaxed atmosphere that encourages openness and confession.

In the course of the counseling session with survivors of terrorist attacks, counselors assess their degree of distress and address it successfully. Therapists should bring in their special abilities and skills to guarantee effectiveness. They could be, for instance, keen listening skills, effective communication, good social abilities, skillful questioning, and the capacity to challenge clients’ negative thoughts politely.


Charney, M. E., Hellberg, S. N., Bui, E., & Simon, N. M. (2018). Evidenced-based treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: An updated review of validated psychotherapeutic and pharmacological approaches. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 26(3), 99-115.

Glad, K. A., Thoresen, S., Hafstad, G. S., & Dyb, G. (2018). Survivors report back: Young people reflect on their media experiences after a terrorist attack. Journalism Studies, 19(11), 1652-1668.

Hamblen, J. L., Norris, F. H., Symon, K. A., & Bow, T. E. (2017). Cognitive behavioral therapy for postdisaster distress: A promising transdiagnostic approach to treating disaster survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(1), 130-135.

McCurry, J. (2019). . The Guardian. Web.

Storrs, C. (2015). . CNN. Web.

Weinberg, M., Besser, A., Zeigler-Hill, V., & Neria, Y. (2018). Marital satisfaction and trauma-related symptoms among injured survivors of terror attacks and their spouses. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(3), 395-407.

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