Images can trigger trauma

Sep 102006
Authors: James Baetke

Editors note: Sept. 11, 2001 was a day that impacted Americans everywhere, and fallout from that day continues to change us every day. The Collegian has contacted several professors to see how the day has changed their area of study. Below is one perspective of several.

Toni Zimmerman, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

James Baetke: How has Sept. 11 and the aftermath of the last five years changed your field?

Toni Zimmerman: I think a couple of things have changed. One, our field has become more aware of community grief and community trauma and helping communities heal. Often, whether it’s a school or whether it’s a town or whether it’s a nation, people are showing signs of grief or trauma.

Another thing, because we have so many visuals coming around this anniversary, we are also becoming more and more aware of how people can experience trauma by experiencing other people’s trauma. It’s like that secondary trauma reaction. We can feel their pain or it triggers our own loss or anxiety.

JB: How do you see your field evolving over the next five to 10 years, and will these changes be the result of Sept. 11?

TZ: Well, I think its evolving in the way we think about intervention or prevention in a larger scale way. How can communities come together and change each other’s lives?

For instance, in one of the ways it’s so helpful is talking to others and also by understanding rituals, whether it’s planting trees or having a memorial. Rituals give us a chance to be a part of something and healing collectively. Our field is helping more and more people understand those rituals. Rituals help you get in touch with your feelings of loss and grief, but they also give you an opportunity to celebrate a life that was there and is still important.

JB: Do you believe an event like Sept. 11 will happen again?

TZ: I think when the unthinkable happens, you can’t but think it could. Kids are exposed now and are part of drills in school, whether it’s for a (mock) shooting or something like September 11. As a parent you have to make your kids feel secure and safe. On some level we all think it could never happen and on another level we think it might happen.

JB: In a world where globalization is growing, do you believe terrorist attacks will continue or eventually end?

TZ: On a global level, we are in uncharted territory. So the path we lay globally is the path we’ll walk. As global partners and sharing the same planet we have a consciousness to walk the same path. There is no prediction to what’s going to happen, but we have a say in how we want to shape things.

Staff writer James Baetke can be reached at

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.