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Home > Research Articles > Healing the Wounds of Terrorism for NYC Firefighters and their Families

NEWSWISE/Medical News

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Healing the Wounds of Terrorism for NYC Firefighters and their Families

NEWSWISE/Medical News - August 16, 2002 A group of New York City firefighters and family members have just completed the first in a series of residential workshops on psychological self-care and mind-body medicine presented by the Washington, DC based Center for Mind-Body Medicine. "The losses that the firefighters and their families suffered are overwhelming," said Center Director, psychiatrist James S. Gordon, M.D., " but their courage, honesty, humor and sense of community are inspiring. Our program gives them an opportunity to share their suffering and to learn techniques which can reduce their stress. We're helping them to move through their grief, 'to', as one firefighter said, 'deal and heal'."

September 11 deeply affected all Americans, and devastated the community of New York City firefighters -- 343 died. Everyday, firefighters, their widows, children and family members are dealing with ongoing grief, hopelessness, anxiety, anger, depression, extraordinary levels of stress, as well as nightmares and flashbacks -- the disabling symptoms of post traumatic stress.

Sixty-three firefighters and family members came to the first retreat at the Villa Roma in upstate New York looking for relief from pain that never seemed to stop. "I've never been afraid of anything, " one veteran firefighter said on the first day. "Now I can't stop thinking about what scares me. And, when I'm not afraid, I'm yelling at somebody."

In small groups, firefighters, their wives, widows, and children, as well as counselors working with them, had the opportunity to speak openly of their own stress, sadness, anger and grief and learn techniques -- relaxation, meditation, imagery, drawings, biofeedback, movement, and yoga -- which they could then use to help themselves.

"I was skeptical about all this at the beginning, but I'm thrilled to be here," the veteran said at the end of the workshop. " I wish I had a magic stick that would bring all my firefighter brothers to the next workshop."

The program, which was privately funded, was developed in consultation with New York City firefighters and their families. There was no charge to participants. As funding becomes available additional retreats will be held.

The program is based on the Center for Mind Body Medicine's ground-breaking work with those traumatized by war in Kosovo and Macedonia. In 1999 when the NATO bombing campaign began in Kosovo, Dr. Gordon conducted a multi-ethnic mind-body skills training program in Macedonia for physician refugees. Over the last three years, the Center for Mind-Body Medicine has trained some of Kosovo's leading psychiatrists, as well as hundreds of other Kosovo health professionals, psychologists, teachers and community leaders. Now the Center is helping Kosovo's psychiatrists and psychologists to create a new mental health system. "What we've discovered," Dr. Gordon said, "is that we can teach physicians, psychologists, and other community leaders to understand and heal themselves and that, in turn, they can teach their countrymen to do the same."

James S. Gordon, MD, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Mind Body Medicine. His work with people traumatized by war and terrorism has been profiled in the AMA News, People, Biography, and Natural Health magazines and on CNN. Dr. Gordon is a Clinical Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School and recently served as Chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy.

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, a non-profit educational organization, is dedicated to reviving the spirit and transforming the practice of medicine. www.cmbm.org

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