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Hurricane Sandy Second Response: Healing Through Play

MADRE has been working in partnership with Fortunate Blessings to provide second response healing for children who experienced trauma during Hurricane Sandy. Emily is a feng shui practitioner and photographer coordinating the Second Response Effort for Fortunate Blessings Foundation. She shared her thoughts on our recent “playshop” in Gerritsen Beach.

This weekend we were out in Gerritsen Beach, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, facilitating a playshop for children, their families, and first responders. The movement therapy work we do in the playshops is simple, non-confrontational, and deeply respectful while occurring to the children as fun games.  While my heart was heavy still trying to wrap my head around what happened in Newtown, it seemed fitting that we were helping children who were traumatized by a natural disaster.

One of the children who participated in the playshop lost everything in the hurricane. Everything. His mother has gotten new toys for him and his sister. His Lieutenant Fireman father is working on rebuilding their home while the family of 5 is squeezed into a 1-bedroom apartment. His 4-year old sister is worried that Santa won’t be able to find them, and he won’t go to bed without his shoes on and his jacket zipped.

These are natural responses to a traumatic event. The window for manifestation of PTSD is 90-120 days. That is why Second Response is mobilizing now to reach the kids who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. We are trying to prevent them from developing the D in PTSD.

It was so powerful to see this 3-year-old little boy who lost his home and everything that felt safe and familiar scream his face off. He was expressing anger, releasing it, instead of letting that emotion get buried into his physical body. Unexpressed anger can become distorted turning into rage later on. Other natural emotions released were fear, grief, and love which have their own distortions if they are not expressed.

A couple of people from FEMA and some other adults from the community also participated in the playshop. They expressed afterwards how relaxed they were feeling and how much fun they had, how they really needed it. They, too, have been under tremendous stress. One of the women from FEMA has been in NY living out of a hotel room away from her children and family in Michigan for the last 3 weeks. Others have been here from far away since before the storm.

While cognitive therapy is useful and beneficial, healing invisible wounds through body movement is an important and highly effective way to release stress caused by trauma. I hope that when the time is right for the people in the community of Newtown, they will have the opportunity to heal their invisible wounds to recover from the heartbreaking trauma they experienced.

December 20, 2012  / Building a Just Peace