Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Assessing Loss Reactions among Older Adults: Strategies to Evaluate the Impact of September 11, 2001

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Assessing Loss Reactions among Older Adults: Strategies to Evaluate the Impact of September 11, 2001

Article excerpt

As a result of the events of September 11, 2001, older adults have experienced a multitude of death-related and non-death losses. Mental health counselors who interact with older adults have a crucial role in identifying individuals who may be at risk for experiencing a subsequent, temporary, upsurge of grief Following a review of basic concepts and underlying philosophies that can be utilized to inform work with bereaved older adults, interviewing strategies and standardized measures available for use with older adults experiencing trauma and grief are described. Then using Corr's (2003) task-based approach as a framework, strategies for identification of need and intervention are presented.


During her 85 years, Sophia had experienced many losses and challenges, including the death of her husband, Bill, in France during World War II; raising a child alone until her remarriage; watching her second husband's health deteriorate as he battled cancer; and losing her independence in December, 2002, following a stroke that forced her into an assisted living community. When she woke up on Thursday, September 11, 2003, she knew that this would not be an ordinary day. Sophia vividly remembered the powerful feelings that she experienced 2 years ago upon hearing about the destruction and death that had resulted from the terrorist attacks. She had relived the agony of not knowing if Bill had survived the invasion of Normandy, particularly while watching media coverage of the families who were waiting to confirm that a loved one was safe or to receive confirmation of a loved one's death. However, on the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks, she suspected that her emotions would be more focused upon her friend Mary, whose grandson, Jeffrey, had died in one of the towers on that fateful day.

Because she had decided not to join her family on their pilgrimage to New York City for the memorial service at Ground Zero, Mary was planning to spend some time quietly reflecting upon her grandson's life rather than thinking about how and where he died. She had asked Sophia if she would be willing to accompany her on a trip to the local museum, a place that she and Jeffrey had visited frequently during his summer visits. This was a place where Mary hoped that she could focus upon the laughter and joy that she had shared with Jeffrey as a child rather than on the tears that had been shed over the past 2 years following his death. Perhaps, she told Sophia, they could help each other through what was likely to be a bittersweet day.

On September 11, 2001, many lives were changed in ways that will be difficult to fully comprehend for years to come. Within hours of the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, the nation was forced to grapple with the reality that life as people knew it would never be the same. The older adults (ages 40-85) who worked and/or lived near ground zero experienced intense reactions that were understandable and natural, as was their concern about family and friends. However, many older adults who were not directly involved in or impacted by the events in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania have also experienced a multitude of loss-related reactions to this unprecedented series of events.

This article examines strategies for assessing the reactions of older adults to the death and non-death losses experienced as a result of the events of September 11, 2001. In addition to examining potential changes in adults' assumptive worlds (e.g., perceptions of safety and security), factors contributing to potential subsequent, temporary, upsurges of grief (STUG) reactions (Rando, 1993) are identified. Assessment and treatment strategies used for identification of older adults at risk of a normal resurgence of grief during the aftermath of this national tragedy are discussed.


Within 6 months of the terrorist attacks, Figley (2002) noted that the collective struggle to understand the implications of this trauma had only begun. …

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