What drives people to violence? Is it nature or nurture?
Jeremy Richman suggests the answer to this age-old question should be “yes, of course it is.”
Richman, a scientist and the father of a child who died in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, delivered the opening keynote address this morning at the American Counseling Association 2016 Conference & Expo in Montréal. Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, co-founded the Avielle Foundation three days after the Sandy Hook shooting to honor their 6 year-old, Avielle Rose, who died in the tragedy with 19 of her young classmates and six adult staff members. The Connecticut-based nonprofit has a goal of using brain health research to prevent violence.
In the U.S. there is, statistically, one suicide every 14 minutes, one rape every 6.6 minutes and an act of violent crime every 27 seconds, Richman says.
A number of factors – from access to firearms or environmental toxins, such as secondhand smoke, to childhood violence, traumatic brain injury or poor nutrition – have been found to contribute to violence, says Richman.
At the same time, the human brain is “like a muscle,” with an amazing capacity to change, regenerate and heal throughout its entire lifetime, says Richman.
“We are amazingly complex organisms,” he says. “You can teach an old dog new tricks — it’s just a lot more difficult.”
Preventing violence is more than creating an absence of risk, Richman says. The job of counselors is to help lower the risk factors mentioned above, while also fostering protective factors, including empathy, compassion and the ability to identify and control emotions.
Connecting to one another also key to violence prevention. Humans have evolved to live in groups; connection is part of being human, Richman says.
We are all responsible for the health of ourselves, our families and our communities, Richman contends.
“To be human means to be humane,” Richman says. “It’s only imagination that will set us free to make tomorrow better.”
Learn more about Jeremy Richman’s work with the Avielle Foundation at aviellefoundation.org
Related reading: See Counseling Today’s profile of Richman: wp.me/p2BxKN-491
ACA’s 2016 conference, held in partnership with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, runs through April 3.
See more photos of ACA’s 2016 Conference and Expo at flickr.com/photos/23682700@N04/
Interested in Live Streaming the 2016 Conference to earn 15 CEs? Go to counseling.org/conference/montreal-aca-2016/livestreaming
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org