Monthly Archives: November 2012

Sandy’s aftermath: counselors weigh in on how to help

Heather Rudow November 16, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/United States Government Work)

As the East Coast continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy, a historic “superstorm” that claimed more than 120 lives in the United States and left an unthinkable path of destruction in its wake, Counseling Today reached out to a few American Counseling Association members living in affected areas. We asked them to share their thoughts on how counselors can be of help. Annette Schreiber, an ACA member and New Jersey resident who spent her time post-Sandy volunteering at a local American Red Cross shelter, is the next to share her thoughts.

Annette Schreiber, a newly recruited volunteer for disaster mental health with the Jersey Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross, was fortunate that Hurricane Sandy did not damage her Manahawkin, N.J., home. But her office, located on Long Beach Island, was under an evacuation mandate from the storm for more than two weeks, preventing her from working there.

“The building looks like it sustained no damage, so even though we were borrowing office space temporarily, it was frustrating that I couldn’t see my clients in my own office where we all were more comfortable with the familiar place,” Schreiber says. “I think yet another change in our lives was disconcerting to everyone, myself included.”

Despite those setbacks, Schreiber chose to be proactive and help those in the community hit hardest by the storm. On Oct. 28, the day before Hurricane Sandy hit, she began volunteering at an American Red Cross Shelter located at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin.

Much of her time was spent walking throughout the shelter and simply talking with the people staying there, including numerous fragile older adults who needed reassurance. Other times, the nurses or other evacuees asked her to talk specifically to people who were having a difficult time.

“I think it would be a cliché to say that my experience as a volunteer at a Red Cross shelter was a life-changing experience, but I am changed,” she related to CT Online. “Putting on my Red Cross vest each day gave me a sense of pride and purpose, of being a part of something bigger than I imagined. Although my part of the operation is over, the Red Cross continues to play a huge part as we cope with the devastation wrought by Sandy.”

What Schreiber saw upon visiting the shelter when volunteering was both “sad and wonderful,” she says.

“I found myself both energized and exhausted. I saw my community come together to help those affected by the storm. One evening, one of the nurses said they needed pillows to prop up some of the elderly guests so that they could breathe more easily. I put a message out on my Facebook page that the shelter needed bed pillows. By time I left, someone had dropped off a half-dozen pillows, and a couple of the teen volunteers went out to BJ’s and brought back literally a carload of pillows. By the next day, the shelter had all they needed. The outpouring of generosity by my high school friends, and my community, was absolutely amazing. All differences we may have had, especially right before the election, were put aside to come together to help those in need. In the end, this is our community, our home, our school and our people.”

Schreiber says that before licensed mental health professionals begin volunteering at shelters, they need to be trained in disaster mental health, psychological first aid, crisis intervention, trauma and PTSD treatment, and critical incident work.

“I have over 100 CEUs in these areas,” she explains, “which is perhaps why, although this was my first experience at a Red Cross shelter, I felt very comfortable in what I was doing.”

Schreiber says it is important for counselors working in this environment to be “versatile, because you never know what is going to happen next. You may be helping not only the evacuees, but also staff members who are overworked and sleep deprived. You need to know how to listen and to find ways of joining with people. For example, I have lived in South Jersey all of my life, and one of my earliest memories is evacuating from Hurricane Donna in 1960. It seemed to help me develop rapport with evacuees when they knew that I’ve evacuated a few times myself. Also, by being local, there were sometimes connections from the past. I talked to one lady who had been a teacher at my old grade school.”

Currently, Schreiber and other counselors in the area are still providing emotional support to those affected by the storm.

“In certain circumstances, when done correctly by a trained professional, critical incident debriefing is appropriate,” she says. “Stress management is also important. Down the road, we are looking at possible acute stress disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder in both victims and first responders, so we have to be thinking about trauma treatment and more stress management of various kinds. People [have lost] their homes, possessions and livelihoods. Families are either split up, or have too much togetherness as they are taken in by relatives. Some people may have to relocate indefinitely. We help by listening, by helping them process the trauma [and] assist in the grieving process of losing important parts of their personal and family histories.”

Counselors living outside of the areas directly impacted by Sandy may also have clients touched by the disaster, Schreiber emphasizes.

“To a certain degree, people farther away are affected, especially if they have family or friends in the affected areas,” Schreiber says. “They can feel helpless that they are unable to be there to lend assistance, and sometimes feel guilty that they are in their own homes, warm and dry.”

In addition, when working with people affected by Sandy, counselors may be surprised at how resilient individuals are.

“We go in half expecting to find people weeping and wailing about their experience.  And there are some tears,” Schreiber says.  “But they often find things to laugh about, and they bond with other people: teenage volunteers with elderly people, or people who meet in the shelter, share the adventures and hardships, and I believe these friendships will last a very long time. And people were so grateful for small things.  Over and over again, the shelter ‘guests’ told me how nice everyone was and how much they appreciated what we could do for them.”

Read parts one, two and three in this series.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at

High school counselors still on front lines in helping students handle college admissions stress

Kathleen Smith November 14, 2012


At La Plata High School in Maryland, a college and career adviser shoulders some of the responsibilities that would otherwise fall on school counselor Janel Young and her towering caseload of 383 students. Young has found, however, that students sometimes feel more comfortable coming to her for help with the stress of the college admissions process.

“I suppose it’s because I’ve gotten to know them over their four years in high school,” explains Young. “For the majority of students, the college admissions process is the most stressful, soul-searching, life-changing process they’ve had to experience. It makes sense that they want to go to someone who knows them.”

More so than other helping professionals, high school counselors face a trio of responsibilities when serving their students: academic success, college and career readiness, and personal and social issues. During the past decade, many high schools have sought to relieve this pressure by designating additional staff to captain admissions tasks, but counselors such as Young are finding that the ties between college planning and personal well-being are not so easily severed.

Earlier this year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported that the average high school senior will apply to nine schools this fall. That statistic reveals the competing pressures of student, high school and parental expectations as well as the reality of indecision concerning what makes a “good fit” for a student. It also illuminates the veritable mountain of admissions paperwork waiting for school counselors, who earnestly want the best outcome for each student.

And in the current economy, affordability has become perhaps the most anxiety-inducing pressure for students and parents preparing for college. “My high-achieving students now, versus those in just my last graduating class, are far more cognizant of the pressure to find affordable colleges and scholarships,” says Young. “I have sophomores currently, but even as freshmen last year, these students were initiating conversations with me about how to set themselves up to earn scholarships as seniors in 2015.”

At Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Ga., school counselor Susan Strickland has found that parental involvement regarding scholarships and admissions sometimes can go too far. “There’s a lot of social pressure to get into certain schools, and parents feel that if they don’t do it, it won’t get done. Parents need to allow their kids to work with the school, and if that kid is sharp and has a shot, then the kind of student a college is looking for can handle that pressure.”

School counselors also find that the unfulfilled dreams of parents can be an inhibiting factor in the admissions process. “You have to work closely with parents so that they’re listening to their child and they’re realistic about options,” explains former school counselor Sylinda Gilchrist-Banks, president of the American School Counselor Association, a division of the American Counseling Association, and a faculty member at Norfolk State University. “Parents have dreams that they have to let go. I stress to the parent, support your child, but if you want your child to go to Virginia Tech because you went there, you need to make sure your child is comfortable wherever they choose to go to college.”

Eager parents are certainly not the only culpable adults in the process. Staff members at The Common Application Inc., a nonprofit that manages the Common Application used by almost 500 colleges and universities in the United States, have been encouraging high school counselors not to contact institutions about students’ applications, but to let the students take more responsibility and initiative.

“We don’t have a culture of allowing students to fail, as a whole. We don’t teach kids the value of failing at something,” says Strickland. “On the one hand, we want great students who get into the schools of their dreams, but we also want to make sure that we don’t take that from them and do it for them. It’s a fine balance between providing information and doing too much for them.”

In addition to promoting individual responsibility among adolescents, helping students maintain the balance between achieving academic goals and investing in activities that promote good mental health is perhaps the biggest challenge for school counselors.

“The students that seem to balance it the best are those who are organized, know how to manage their time and have some kind of outlet for that pressure build-up through sports or extracurriculars,” says Young. “They also have some type of established support network to lean on in those inevitable moments where the balance shifts and their mental health takes a wallop. Not everyone has a supportive family environment, but good friends, a school staff member or two, or a great coach can fill that void just as well sometimes.”

Certainly a high school counselor can be another valuable member of that support network for students. Because after all the cheerleading through the admissions process is over, they can remind these students that life does not hinge on the thickness of an envelope come spring.

Kathleen Smith is a doctoral student in counseling at George Washington University and a regular contributor to CT Online. She can be reached at



Q & A with a counselor: Evelyn Duesbury

Heather Rudow November 9, 2012

Evelyn Duesbury, a counselor educator from Wisconsin who teaches online, as well as a researcher and author, began a career in counseling after a dream; appropriately, she now spends her time teaching counselors how to interpret dreams to help their clients solve real-life problems, reconcile feelings and make decisions. Duesbury, a member of the American Counseling Association, developed a process called the Personalized Method for Interpretation of Dreams (PMID) during her thesis research in 2000. She has since expanded the process to help clients gain a clearer connection between their dreams and “waking life.” She has also written a book, The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams published by Routledge in 2010. Duesbury believes that exploring dreams can help clients better connect with themselves and also help counselors better understand their clients. For more information, visit

Describe your journey from teaching to counseling.

Nighttime dreams changed my life: my profession, my passion and my purpose. Though for several years I was passionate about teaching accounting, my nighttime dreams began to surprise me with suggestions to leave the accounting classroom. In dreams, my students were no longer attentive and no longer filled my classroom. In waking life, my classroom was most always full of attentive students.

I dreamed that Chapter 23 was the next chapter in our accounting textbook. However, there were no problems at the end of Chapter 23; accounting textbook chapters conclude with problems. I also dreamed that a Dr. Conway took my place in my accounting classroom. Finally, I realized that my “con way” was to teach about dreams, and there would be spiritual guidance. Chapter 23 stems from my familiarity with Psalm 23 [in the Bible].

When I visited with a colleague about my interest in dreams, he suggested a nearby college – Loras of Dubuque, Iowa – where I could enroll in a psychology program. After I began the course work, I had dream confirmation that Loras was the right choice. After I had completed preliminary courses, my nighttime counselors (my dreams) led me in state to a counseling program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. My psychology course grades transferred to UW-Whitewater and were valuable additions to my master of counselor education degree. During thesis research I, with thesis committee guidance, developed PMID. The thesis was chosen UW-Whitewater’s thesis of the year for 2000.

Describe a typical session with your clients.

The overall procedure is for the counselor to guide the client’s use of the PMID model by providing feedback and posing questions as the client interprets his or her dream. The PMID model steps, in brief, are:

Step 1: Connect your previous-day (often the day before) events to the dream to discover the theme of this dream. The events may appear in either symbolic or literal terms in your dream to determine an overall theme of your dream.

Step 2: Connect your previous-day (often the day before) thoughts to your dream to detect which thoughts may have prompted this dream’s responses.

Step 3: Select and define major dream phrases and symbols from your write-up of this dream to discover the dream’s personalized meanings.

Step 4: Compare your emotions in your dream with your pre-dream, waking-life emotions to discover whether your waking-life emotions accurately reflect how you feel about the issue in this dream.

Step 5: Explore your dream for possible solutions to problems, including changing (or affirming) your thoughts, attitudes or behaviors.

Step 6: Explore your dream for family and other relationship systems perspectives, which are influences arising from reactions to family and other major relationships, both past and current. Use these perspectives to discover whether this dream reflects your reactions during experiences with family members or other important people in your life.

My typical work with clients has been by way of facilitating research and exploring participants’ use of the PMID model. Those sessions are intensive with interchanges as I facilitate their use of the PMID model for a minimum of five of their dreams over at least a three-month period.

For preschool-aged children, why is it important to include their parents in the sessions?

From my experiences of working with adults whose dreams about childhood experiences repeat into adulthood, I consider it important for caring parents to be included in their children’s counseling sessions.

The dreams of preschoolers are often terribly frightening. Young children are painfully aware of how small and weak they are in a world filled with tall grown-ups, complex machines and ferocious animals. Nightmares are a very natural, very normal response to these feelings of vulnerability. Through their nightmares, young children work at developing the inner resources necessary to fend off the various threats and dangers that frighten them in waking life. Paradoxical as it may sound, frightening dreams are often a sign of healthy adaptation for children. So … parents should not worry too much if their children have occasional nightmares.

Outside the counseling session, the most important help parents can give when their children awake from dreams, whether happy or scary, is to patiently listen as their children relate their dreams. In this way, the children’s feelings and reactions are valued. It is also possible that waking-life activities that might have prompted the dreams may be revealed as the children talk about their dreams.

Why do you think it’s important that counselors put more of a focus on their clients’ dreams and subconscious than they currently do?

Dreams reach to the peripheries of the mind, further than most waking-life thoughts go. That occurs because some structures that somewhat confine thinking in waking life to directed thought and voluntary control are shut down during dreaming. Consequently, during the dreamers’ work of connecting their waking-life events, thoughts, personal experiences, emotions and reactions to their dreams, they have potential to discover and share personal information they may not otherwise have known or thought to share with their counselors.

Inherent in the counseling profession’s mission is to enhance the individual’s quality of life. The facilitation of clients’ work with dreams is a positive resource for counselors to enhance the quality of life for their clients. Even so, work with dreams is an aspect of people’s lives that is yet to be emphasized by the counseling profession.

Research shows that all people dream, whether practiced techniques are used to remember their dreams or not. All that activity done during this “night shift” – what a waste to ignore it! Let’s recognize that dreams are significant resources for the counseling profession.

The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams was written with ACA counselors in mind. As a counselor education student, I often felt a gap because dreams were not included as resources for understanding and alleviating stress. A major reason dreams weren’t considered was the lack of textbooks by ACA members on how to facilitate clients’ use of dreams. In ACA, we facilitate clients as they find their own answers. A unique feature of the PMID model is that the counselor facilitates clients’ use of the PMID model as they interpret their own dreams.

Are there techniques used in this kind of therapy that all counselors can use with their clients?

Yes. For instance, exploration of the client’s current thoughts can help all counselors understand what issues are primary in the client’s life. When clients can connect waking-life thoughts to their dreams, there is potential to discover which thoughts are at the root of stressors. Comparison of waking-life emotions with the client’s report of dreaming emotions has potential to reveal when the client has inaccurately appraised his or her current emotions about an issue at hand.

Research shows that dreaming emotions, rightly understood, are more accurate than people’s waking-life appraisal of their emotions. Further, exploration of clients’ early-life experiences can be enhanced by searching dreams for clues about current unresolved issues. Such information is often important for dealing with the issue that brought the client to counseling.

Are there any misconceptions about PMID?

Though a great benefit of using the PMID model is the ability to find solutions to waking-life issues in dreams, competence in using the PMID can take more persistence, patience and dedication than the counselor or the client is willing to give. The PMID model is not a quick-fix model.

In my view, one reason that the Western world places little emphasis on dreams is because people have become accustomed to quick fixes. Ironically, in our culture of highly skilled people in the arts, sciences, entertainment and athletics who dedicate themselves every day of their lives to developing skills in their specialized fields, it seems amazing that so many people look for quick fixes for something as vital as understanding themselves.

The good news is my projects (which I collaborate on with my colleagues at UW-Whitewater) show a significant number of participants experience positive outcomes by eight weeks of receiving facilitation by a knowledgeable counselor for a minimum of five dreams. One measure to evaluate each participant’s progress in changing emotions is our Emotional Change Instrument (ECI). For instance, during a research project with participants from a general population sector, at three and one-half months, six of the eight participants reported a positive change in their emotions about one or more relationship. At six months, seven of the eight participants reported a positive change in dreaming emotions about one or more relationship. As the facilitator, I compared participants’ dreams with their ECI reports. Only one dream by one participant was different from the participant’s report.

A common misconception is it is dangerous to work with dreams. Counselors’ experiences with their clients is a first criteria [for] each client’s emotional stability to work with dreams. We use a screening application to evaluate applicants’ emotional stability to work with their dreams. E.B. Bynum, clinical psychologist, wrote a “Caveat on Bad or Worrisome Dreams” that is included in The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams.

An obvious limitation of dream interpretations is the possibility of misinterpretation. Studying more than one dream about critical issues, reviewing dreams and interpretations before acting, and consulting with a professional counselor trained in dream work all help dreamers forestall misinterpretation. Another obvious limitation of all dream interpretation models is that people must have dream recall. Though all people dream as a biological necessity, some have little or no dream recall.

What sorts of counselors might benefit from trying this kind of approach?

Those who use a cognitive behavior-type therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on the individual’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors; nighttime dreams connect to the dreamer’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

Those who use a family systems therapy. Family systems methods focus on the family group’s influences and reactions to each member of the family; nighttime dreams reveal the dreamer’s reactions to earlier and current experiences with family and other major relationships.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The history of dream use across the globe from ancient times is strong support for the value of dreams. For instance, an ancient authority on dreams — Synesius of Cyrene, circa. 373-414 — taught that people should explore the personal meanings of their dream symbols instead of consulting dream books for interpretations. Yet, dream guidance practices were uprooted and fell into disuse for many centuries. Dreams found their way back to common usage in contemporary times when 20th-century pioneers Freud and Jung championed dreams for overcoming stress. Counselors, think about this: The most universally experienced nighttime activity is dreaming. We counselors need to wake up and consider the intrinsic value of dreams.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at

Sandy’s aftermath: counselors weigh in on how to help

Heather Rudow November 8, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/United States Government Work)

As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy, a historic “superstorm” that claimed more than 120 lives in the United States and left an unthinkable path of destruction in its wake, Counseling Today reached out to a few American Counseling Association members living in affected areas. We asked them to share their thoughts on how counselors can be of help in both the immediate aftermath of Sandy and also in the long term. Jane Webber, former president of the New Jersey Counseling Association and current member of the ACA Crisis Response Planning Task Force, is the next to share her thoughts.

Jane Webber, co-editor of Terrorism, Trauma and Tragedies: A Counselor’s Guide to Preparing and Responding, third edition, published by ACA, thought she would be one of those helping in recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy. Instead, she is in the midst of recovering herself.

“I am a part of the New Jersey system for ready responders as a disaster response crisis counselor, and I was prepared to volunteer,” says Webber, a Jersey City resident. “I did not expect that Hurricane Sandy would also affect my community and me.”

“Sandy roared through our town and up our street like a monster,” she recalls. “It was the worst storm I have ever experienced, even when I grew up on the Jersey Shore. The next morning, we walked outside to downed trees and wires everywhere, and the poles and transformers are still a mangled mess.”

Webber’s house was not damaged during the storm or its aftermath. However, some of her neighbors were not so lucky.

As Webber related to CT Online on Sunday, Nov 4, “Many shore residents have no home to return to, and I count my blessings that we are OK. We have no heat, no power, no phone service. We pack up the car in the morning hoping to find a hotel vacancy, unpacking it at night and crawling under blankets in the dark. The temperature has dropped below freezing, and we slept in the basement last night where it was warmer. … The whole town is dark at night and perhaps three families are left in the neighborhood. We stand in line in the library for a spot to charge our cell phone from a generator and to share a little heat and our stories during the day.”

 Webber says those who experienced Sandy directly faced the possibility of death, which she calls the “ultimate existential experience.”

“Survivors may be deeply shaken as they reflect on their survival and their losses,” Webber says. “Families stay very close, and while some can begin to consider decisions about staying or leaving, rebuilding or abandoning, others are in shock or worrying about heat and food and just pulling it together each day. … Those who left may need your support when they can return to inspect the damage. I sat next to one woman at the hospital who said that she did not know her house was gone until she saw her destroyed neighborhood on the news.”

One of the main things counselors can do to help those recovering from Sandy is to be empathic, she says.

“Counselors are fully present, attending, supporting and lending an ear as survivors pull together [and] decide how, when and where to rebuild their lives,” Webber says. “In the immediate aftermath, counselors use psychological first aid rather than mental health counseling to help people going through a normal response to an abnormal event. We can assist individuals and families in empowering themselves toward recovery, and in time, through the overwhelming experience of gathering the remains of their homes [and] navigating through insurance, FEMA, unemployment and emergency assistance to continue.”

A great need exists for counselors living outside of affected areas to help, Webber says.

“Counselors in other areas can assist relocated individuals coping with separation and loss and making decisions about resettlement and employment in [what is] an already distressed job market,” she says. “Individuals may relive previous hurricanes or tornadoes, particularly if they live in certain geographic areas. Others may vicariously experience Hurricane Sandy through television news coverage and may need to ground themselves with your support. Each individual with traumatic experiences has a story to tell in order to move forward.”

Counselors can also be a primary resource in assisting individuals who have special needs as they recover from Sandy.

“Survivors with mental health problems and co-occurring disorders may be more vulnerable and in need of medication and additional support,” Webber says. “Shelter volunteers may not have the time or the training to provide assistance to persons with disabilities, and this is where outside counselors can play an important role in helping vulnerable clients in both the immediate aftermath and in the long-term recovery.”

Webber points out that counselors in areas hit by Sandy are dealing with their own hurricane experience and recovery, making it all the more important for outside counselors to help.

“[A colleague] and I have talked about the effect of contemporaneous trauma, when counselors have experienced the disaster personally [and are also] experiencing the impact of their client’s trauma from the same event. Few if any counselors have been untouched in the state,” she says.

For many residents in devastated towns, counselors included, the recovery process could extend for weeks and even months. Of particular concern in the days to come, says Webber, “are older individuals, those with multiple physical and emotional needs, and children and families who have been displaced or separated from their friends and relatives.”

Webber emphasizes that children need to be reassured that they are safe and encouraged to express their feelings.

“They may not have the words to describe the terror of the hurricane, and play is their universal language,” she says. “Parents and guardians need to be close to their children and respond honestly and sensitively to questions. Encouraging the child to play and talk first helps limit parents’ need to overexplain the disaster. … Long, dark nights without their favorite TV shows and possibly without cherished pets or stuffed animals can be very scary. Card and board games with family members are good ways to stay connected and pass the time.”

She also recommends watching Sesame Street Workshop videos, which address children’s feelings and questions about disasters.

Additionally, counselors can look at the suggested responses in the Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide, which Webber finds helpful. A free psychological first aid course is also available on the website.

Other recommendations Webber provides to counselors interested in helping in affected areas:

  •  Teach individuals of all ages self-regulation techniques such as deep breathing and relaxation.
  •  Do not pressure children or teens to talk when they are not ready.
  • Let them know you will check with them again soon and find a better time to talk.
  • Do not expect to conduct mental health counseling in the beginning. Psychological first aid is nonintrusive, brief, practical and empowering.
  •  Do not self-deploy to another area. Register and deploy with a unit.
  •  Do listen fully and attend as a compassionate “lurker.”

To prepare for future disasters, Webber recommends that ACA members “consider becoming a disaster mental health responder through the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health training offered at the ACA Conference & Expo. You can also attend the Learning Institute, ‘Essentials of Disaster and Crisis Counseling,’ at the conference. You can also prepare by completing the FEMA courses, ICS 100 and NIMS 700, online or through your state disaster training unit.”

In the wake of Sandy, Webber says she is “amazed at the resilience of the human spirit after such horrific terror and destruction that often changes the way we view our world. Counselors may be most surprised by the power of post-traumatic growth. Neighbors help neighbors and strangers reach out with acts of remarkable kindness and compassion. Survivors often share their deepest human feelings about what they have been through, finding new meaning in their experience. They emerge from trauma stronger and more committed.”

Read parts one and two in this series.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


Sandy’s aftermath: counselors weigh in on how to help

Heather Rudow November 5, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/United States Government Work)

As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy, a historic “superstorm” that claimed 110 U.S. lives and left an unthinkable path of destruction in its wake, Counseling Today reached out to a few American Counseling Association members living in affected areas. We asked them to share their thoughts on how counselors can be of help in both the immediate aftermath of Sandy and also in the long term. Next up to share her thoughts is Ilana Levitt, president of the New Jersey Counseling Association.

Ilana Levitt, a resident of East Brunswick, N.J., compared living in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to “living in the Twilight Zone.”

“It’s almost a complete lockdown,” she says. “There’s no gas stations open, no food [stores open]. All businesses are shut down.”

Levitt is living in a home currently without power, which is making it, not surprisingly she says, “really cold.”

In addition to the discomfort, Sandy’s aftermath is also making things dangerous.

“An 80-foot tree [fell and] missed my dog by minutes and my house by feet,” she says.

Looking outside of her own personal experience through Sandy and viewing the disaster as a counselor, Levitt says crisis counseling, especially meeting disaster victims’ basic needs, is what is most acutely needed right now.

“There are immediate needs for food, clothing, medical supplies and the issues of loss, grief and finances are all going to come,” she says. “I think people can’t fully process what’s going on because they’re in the trauma phase right now. Even inland where I am right now, people are cold and need to eat.  People need to see family members and take care of basic needs before anything else.”

Levitt believes the full scope of the storm still remains to be seen. She says the immediate impact has been tremendous, but the actual full impact might not be known until later. The effects have ranged from people losing property to people sustaining injuries and finding themselves unable to get needed medications. The impact, Levitt says, has been widespread — financial, health and safety all included.

Levitt, a career counselor and consultant who runs a private practice, knows that the businesses destroyed during the storm and the time employees take off in its wake will have an impact, too.

“They say this is going to be the most costly storm in history,” she says.

The storm will also impact more than the roughly 14 states directly affected by the hurricane.

“Given new technologies and social media, counselors are in touch and working with people face-to-face, remotely and are connected in many ways,” Levitt says. “Counselors all over the world will end up interfacing with people who are impacted by this storm.  Businesses are so global now, [so] the effects of this will be seen for a long time.”

In terms of helping those recovering from Sandy, Levitt recommends counselors go through community or government programs — don’t show up without being asked or provide expertise in areas you are not familiar with.

Grief counseling isn’t appropriate in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster like Sandy, says Levitt. “Right now is about safety and stabilization.”

And when it comes to counseling storm victims in the weeks to come, Levitt says not to assume people want to talk. “Some people want to share their traumatic stories, other people may not,” she says. “You have to meet them where they are. There’s a huge range of emotional reactions, [and] a huge range of ways that people are impacted that we may not expect. ”

She also stresses the importance for counselors to remember self-care, as that can sometimes get lost in the midst of helping others cope. Levitt says she went to a yoga class as soon as it was possible for her to do so after Sandy hit. In addition, Levitt says, maintaining a positive spirit goes a long way.

Levitt says she is grateful for the role social media is playing in keeping residents connected. “Even without TV or radio, they still have Facebook and Instagram to show the devastation and keep information coming,” she says.

She is also amazed by the human spirit, the power of which is truly evident in a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, she says.

“People are coming together even though there is enormous devastation,” Levitt says.  “I’m surprised by the damage but also by peoples’ strength.  It’s important to   also recognize the positive in a crisis.”

The New Jersey Counseling Association asks that any American Red Cross-certified member who wants to provide counseling contact their local Red Cross chapter. Visit the NJCA website for more information.

Read part one in this series.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at