JFS Fort Worth and Tarrant County helps Colleyville heal

By Hannah Simon

The hostage situation in Colleyville at Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) that took Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three congregants hostage on Saturday, Jan. 15, ended in the best possible way. All four hostages escaped after 11 hours of being held captive by British national, Malik Faisal Akram. Now, the Jewish community is working on healing.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Carole Rogers, Jewish Family Services of Fort Worth and Tarrant County director, and Cytron-Walker discussed the need for a Jewish Family Services office in the Northeast Tarrant County area. It took eight years to raise the funds. During that time, Cytron-Walker introduced Dr. Rogers to Dr. Robbie Kinney. Upon getting to know him and hearing about his extensive experiences at JFS Dallas, Kings County in New York, Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, University Behavioral Health of Denton and the University of North Texas counseling center, Rogers decided that Kinney would be the perfect fit to run the Northeast Tarrant County office. So far, Kinney has served the JFS community for seven years.

“I have been so fortunate to be working for the Tarrant County Jewish community for several years now. I am happy to be there during the good times and am honored to be there during the difficult times. I am impressed by the resilience that this community has,” said Kinney.

During this especially hard time, Kinney has provided crisis intervention, debriefing and individual counseling services. Kinney has also met with CBI teachers and parents as well as Rabbi Levi and Rishi Gurevitch of Chabad of Southlake. For security reasons, the JFS Northeast Tarrant County office has never had signage. However, it is conveniently located two miles from CBI, allowing for easy access for Northeast Tarrant County residents. The office will continue to provide whatever services are needed for the community.

Rogers commented, “It was made clear by the FBI that they did not want people up there. I am big about safety. That is the police and the FBI’s job. I knew the after part was my job. Four hours after the negotiations ended I was called by past and current presidents, Mike Finfer and Sam Felberbaum, of CBI to start coordinating services.”

In his meetings with the Northeast Tarrant County community, Kinney defined trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.” According to Kinney, some symptoms of trauma are flashbacks, avoiding places, events, objects, thoughts or feelings that are reminders of the traumatic experience, being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge,” having difficulty sleeping, having angry outbursts, trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, distorted feelings like guilt or blame and loss of interest in enjoyable activities.

Kinney explained that young children process trauma differently than older children and adults. Young children process through play and drawing, wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet, forgetting how to or being unable to talk, acting out the scary event during playtime and being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult. Kinney explained that older children and teens typically show symptoms more similar to adults. They may develop disruptive, disrespectful or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injuries or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge. According to Kinney, additional indicators could be a change in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy.

Kinney stated that to help children process trauma, caregivers should keep home a safe place, attend to concerns, put fears in proportion to real risk, reassure, don’t invalidate, limit exposure to the news, limit exposure to video games, remember that most children are quite resilient and communicate with other adults in the child’s orbit.

Kinney provided a list of ways to help people process trauma

  • Offer support after a traumatic or distressing event.
  • It’s always good to ask the person who has experienced a traumatic or distressing event what you can do to support them. Suggestions for supporting a friend or family member include: Make time to be with the person and make it obvious that you are available. Sometimes, there can be a tendency to want to move someone on before they are ready, because the traumatic experience makes us feel uncomfortable. Try to avoid doing this. People who have had a traumatic experience can feel very reassured by human contact.
  • Don’t take their feelings to heart. They may be irritable, depressed, angry or frightened. Strong feelings and emotional outbursts are common — try not to take it personally. It is important to recognize that they have had a stressful experience and that their reactions are normal and will subside in time.
  • You can help by reassuring the person that their reactions are normal.
  • Offer practical support. You could do the housework or the grocery shopping for them, or pick up their children from school.
  • Encourage the person to take good care of themselves, for example, by eating well, avoiding alcohol, drugs or stimulants, and by attempting to maintain regular sleeping habits.
  • You may need to let the person have time by themselves.
  • Let them know you are there for them without judging.
  • Suggesting to a person that they maintain regular daily routines and habits can be helpful.
  • Talking about the trauma can be important.
    • Suggestions include: Allow the person to talk about what happened, even if they become upset. Just be calm yourself and listen carefully — getting upset too doesn’t help.
    • Don’t insist on talking if the person doesn’t want to. They may need time to be alone with their thoughts. Tell them you are there to listen whenever they feel ready.
    • Reassure them you care and want to understand as much as possible about what happened to them. They may say you can’t possibly understand what they went through and shut you out. If they take this approach, they risk becoming isolated from their support networks. Be patient and see what else you can do to help.
    • Try to make sure there is someone else they can talk to if they don’t want to talk to you about it.
    • If there are some difficult decisions to be made, talk about the situation with the person and help them to identify the different options. However, don’t make the decision for them. Also, if it is only a short time after the traumatic event, suggest that it might be a good idea to wait a little longer before making a decision.

Kinney provided a list of ways to cope with trauma

  • Engage in mild physical activity or exercise to help reduce stress.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what you can as you can.
  • Try to spend time with other people, and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Tell others about things that may trigger symptoms.
  • Expect your symptoms to improve gradually, not immediately.
  • Identify and seek out comforting situations, places and people.
  • Caring for yourself and others is especially important when large numbers of people are exposed to traumatic events (such as natural disasters, accidents and violent acts). 

Here are some activities to consider

  • Yoga
  • Sunshine
  • Talk to others
  • Meditation
  • Hobbies
  • Journaling
  • Artwork
  • Scheduling worry
  • Exercise
  • Enjoyable activities
  • Prayer
  • Mindful meditation
  • Distractions — with limits

Rogers has also helped counsel trauma victims in the past. “I learned to wait and see what is truly needed and not try to do things that are not in my skill set, meaning let the police and medics do the safety things, and I am there later if/when people need to talk. Everybody wants to do things now, but some people in these situations suffer for maybe their whole lives. As a therapist, you want to be there for people as long as they need. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and if you’re going to commit to working with people, you have to commit for the long haul,” she said.

When asked how the Jewish community can start to heal, Rogers said, “Bessel Vanderkolk did a lot of research after 9/11, and he said there were three things more helpful than therapy for the community: (1) to a lesser degree, meditation; (2) yoga, because it decreases the physical stimulation in your body; and (3) the sense of community and the fact that they were all in this together. Any community events like the one they had a few weeks ago — being part of a community.”

Rogers, who has been the director of JFS of Fort Worth and Tarrant County for more than 29 years, is also grateful that she had the opportunity to open the Northeast Tarrant County office, and that it is run by someone who has Kinney’s experience. He has been the primary community contact.

There is no shame in experienc-ing trauma. Help is available. The Jewish Family Services of Fort Worth and Tarrant County phone number is 817-569-0898. Online resources include the National Institutes of Health at https://bit.ly/3og27lf and the American Psychological Association at https://bit.ly/3rfigZY.

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