ORLANDO, FLA. - In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history on June 12, a call for help went out and faculty and graduates of Troy University"s Counseling Program in Central Florida responded.
The shooting at an Orlando nightclub claimed 49 lives and left the city and its residents in shock, struggling to come to grips with the grief they were experiencing. That"s where the TROY counseling program stepped in to help.
"The counseling community in Central Florida put out a call for volunteer counselors to work with family members of the victims, survivors, first responders and members of the community," said Dr. Linda Ouellette, a faculty member at TROY"s Orlando location, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. "Our faculty and many of our graduates of the program have been there working at several different sites and areas in the community. One of the major benefits has been that many of our graduates are Spanish speaking, which has been a tremendous need."
A common thread connecting many, whether directly involved in the tragedy or not, is a profound sense of grief, said Dr. Ouellette, who is also a Disaster Mental Health Responder for the Red Cross.
"One of the first things we communicate to them is that this is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, and, for most, that provides some immediate relief," she said. "They realize that what they are experiencing is normal and that they are not going crazy. We let them know what to do with these strong emotions they are feeling and where and how they can receive continued support. The goal is they leave there feeling they can connect and survive on the other end of this."
Another part of the counseling process has been educating those affected by the tragedy about local resources available to help with such things as funeral expenses and medical bills, Dr. Ouellette said.
"There has been a tremendous amount of community support following this tragedy," she said. "The people of Orlando are coming together, in spite of different beliefs or strongly held convictions, in a very accepting manner. For many touched by this horrendous event, this is the first time they have felt such acceptance."
Serving the community in this manner has also provided faculty the opportunity to work and observe graduates of the TROY counseling program.
"I have worked with several of our graduates out in the field, and they are very well prepared," Dr. Ouellette said. "Part of our curriculum is crisis counseling and mental health first aid. Our graduates are out there very confidently working to help people. We don"t often have the opportunity to work with and observe our graduates at work in the field. I"m so proud of our graduates for being there and volunteering their time."