Updated Wednesday Wisdom Series: Can Feelings of Gratitude Help Survivors Heal from Trauma? Part I
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Here is your bi-monthly Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance
Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation. 

Can Feelings of Gratitude Help Survivors Heal from
Trauma? Part I

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“Not every day is a good day, but there is something good in every day”
                                                                                                – Author Unknown

Attendees at the Foundation’s recent Air, Land, and Sea workshop in Miami, Florida
heard first hand from a survivor who is a great example of the answer to this
question. Hal Ruchelman survived an excursion accident while vacationing on a
cruise line with his wife, other relatives and friends from his hometown. Hal was
badly injured in the accident where twelve others perished. Among them was his
wife of 40 years, Carole, his cousin and his wife.

In a video-taped interview conducted by Foundation leadership one year following
the accident, Hal detailed not only his survival, but also his gratitude toward the
cruise line’s care and leadership teams and the other responders that the cruise
line team brought to his side. In addition to the company employees, the cruise line’s
doctors and nurses, he also listed the rabbi as being a huge source of support made
possible by the company. Because of his wife’s death and the rituals associated
with preparation for burial in his religion, Hal described feeling grateful that the
company brought in a religious leader to assist in this sacred area, as he lay
powerless, seriously injured in a hospital bed.

At the workshop held in July, Hal was re-interviewed to assist the Foundation in
helping educate others on the importance of a cruise line’s response to survivors in
crisis. Hal repeated the same message as in the original interview a decade
earlier—his gratitude toward the cruise line’s Care and leadership teams knows no
bounds. Looking back, Hal stated that he cannot imagine how his life might have
turned out without the support he received from the company. Severely injured,
alone in a country where he did not speak the language, and needing to
communicate with his children back home about their mother’s death, Hal felt
that he would not have had the resources, let alone the strength to help
himself and his family.

Definition of Gratitude: According to researchers Robert Emmons and Cheryl
Crumpler, gratitude is an emotional state and an attitude toward life that is a source
of human strength in enhancing personal and rational well-being as defined in an
article entitled, Gratitude as a Human Strength: Appraising the Evidence.

To further answer the question about how gratitude can influence healing for
survivors of trauma, two recent studies looked at the role of gratitude in mitigating
post-traumatic stress in the wake of violence in the Middle East and natural disaster
in Asia. The articles are briefly reviewed in the paragraphs which follow.

In the first article from the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers report on a
study of 522 Israeli teenagers from one town who came under attack, during which
school was cancelled and the kids spent much of their time in bomb shelters. Two
and a half months after the attack the researchers found that life satisfaction, being
happy with school, family and prospects (for future) was the strongest protection
against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and gratitude had the decisive role
in helping adolescents to be more satisfied with their lives.

Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology involving
participants from two areas in Indonesia—Padang City and Pariaman pertains to
the influence of gratitude on healing from trauma. These geographical areas were
devastated by a 2009 earthquake that killed 1,115 people and destroyed tens of
thousands of homes. Findings showed that after eight months, feelings of gratitude
began to grow as symptoms of PTSD began to drop, suggesting that feelings of
gratitude following a crisis may need time to grow, but does affect healing.

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“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
                                                       -Confucius…Chinese Philosopher (551-479 BCE)

While it is not possible to video tape or conduct interviews with all the survivors who
feel gratitude toward employees and other helpers, many will write letters of gratitude
to the organization’s leadership team praising the employees for the assistance
offered during critical times. When leaders publicize or post the letters and notes in
places where others can read them, this not only instills pride in the responders, it
also encourages others to volunteer during times of crisis.

All recognition efforts, from a simple “thank you for your service”, to a more
formal recognition ceremony can be vital in creating the culture which allows all to feel
valued and grateful to be part of the movement of raising compassion consciousness
which is taking place in the New Millennium. As one very senior airport manager said
about his company after being part of a major accident response where many lives
were lost, “I have never been so proud of my company as when I saw the way they
responded to the people involved in the accident in my city.” The pride and gratitude
in his voice spoke volumes about his own commitment to the company and his
fellow employees—and we believe this pride and gratitude helped his own healing 
from the trauma.

© 2017 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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