Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Indirect Victimization from Terrorism: A Proposed Post-Exposure Intervention

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Indirect Victimization from Terrorism: A Proposed Post-Exposure Intervention

Article excerpt

Indirect victimization from media exposure to terrorism manifests in a variety of psychological distress symptoms. Risks for the public inherent in this exposure prompted construction of a post-exposure therapeutic intervention for moderating emotional responses. For empirical rigor, efficacy was tested in a laboratory study in which 168 participants were exposed to a terrorism or nonterrorism media clip and for each exposure type to a therapeutic or control intervention. State anxiety and anger were measured before and subsequent to experimental manipulation. The first hypothesis predicting higher post-test anxiety and anger in the terrorism than the nonterrorism exposure group was confirmed, validating the negative effects of exposure. Testing the efficacy of the therapeutic intervention, the second hypothesis predicting, in the terrorism exposure, lower post-test levels of anxiety and anger in the therapeutic than control intervention group was also confirmed. These results support the utility of integrated emotional and cognitive therapeutic intervention. Clinical implications of these results suggest a potentially effective therapeutic strategy for indirect terrorism exposure victims, which is especially important during this new era of terrorism.


The new age of global terrorism demands innovative therapies. Most therapeutic concerns thus far have been directed toward victims directly exposed to terrorist acts, although a large proportion of the traumatized are individuals who have been indirectly exposed, mainly via the media (Milgram, 1986). The intensity of the news coverage of terrorism produces almost unedited repeated cycles of abhorrent scenes of carnage that have proved to be extremely distressing and injurious for the public in both the short and long term (Gil-Rivas, Holman, & Silver, 2004; Marshall & Galea, 2004). Graphic presentation in real time in every home increases personal engagement in the events and can produce relatively severe psychological manifestations (Sontag, 2005). Considering the disturbing emotional impact on viewers, these present realities no longer allow for passive consumption of media exposure to terrorism but necessitate interventions that provide mechanisms for active coping with the frightening images. The present research addresses the need to extend clinical efforts to the new populations of indirect victims of terrorism.

Indirect Victims of Media Coverage of Terrorism

The increasing advent of terrorism worldwide forces acknowledgement of its impact beyond singular attacks in specific locations. Whereas in the past conventional warfare was fought along front lines by the military, modern warfare occurs in the very midst of civilian populations. This change has necessitated deconstruction of traditional concepts of warfare and new perceptions of the enemy and strategies for civilian defense.

One of the major constituents of this new frontier of modern warfare is terrorism that is projected into individuals' lives either directly by victimization, loss, and acquaintance with victims, or vicariously via the media. Thus, the new enemy is not solely the terrorist group but its penetration and extension into the very fabric of society and the individual home.

Foremost among the primary mechanisms by which this extension and magnification occurs is that of psychological warfare, which constitutes the planned use of communications to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors of target groups, usually to attain some national objective (Collins, 2006). The nature and intensity of psychological warfare has been facilitated by rapid developments in media technology. Because modern global networks enable almost immediate delivery of terrorist events, they raise awareness of the presence and objectives of terrorist organizations.

Visual presentation of these events has been effective in influencing viewer emotions and attitudes, closing the gap between viewers and conflict events, and increasing individual involvement (Schleifer, 2006). …

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