Everyone remembers where they were.
I was trying to get into the building where I worked, at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in NYC, but it was blocked off. I asked someone why, and got this crazy answer that didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense.
Later that day I picked up a job providing psychological first aid to employees in a company that had lost some workers in the World Trade Center. I remember walking down a long street – towards the smoke! – which also didn’t make sense. It was surreal.
Then there was plenty of aftermath, personal as well as professional. Among other things, I provided a lot of guidance to the NYC school system: consulted with the superintendent, developed a training curriculum that was provided to school staff. Developed a multi-day trauma therapy training program for their school-based mental health professionals, which I provided for several groups over the following months. I remember for those early handouts, I didn’t know how to do it right, each powerpoint slide was its own full page. That handout had a lot of pages!
Even so, that training program went so well that, a year later, I left Mt. Sinai to found this nonprofit trauma therapy organization. It started as a training institute, though by now we also do therapy as well as research. Every year on 9/11 I make a point to be training therapists. This year 9/11 is on a Saturday, no teaching, thus this blog post.
The world today is in some ways even worse than 20 years ago. People are getting traumatized faster than our community of therapists can heal them. At present, it seems to be a losing battle.
Even so. You either give up, or you don’t. Political and social actions have at least a chance of changing some of the systemic problems. And then there’s trauma-focused therapy. Even if you can’t save all the starfish, for each one you can save, your efforts sure matter to that starfish. What comes to mind is the saying from the Talmud, “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the whole world.” And also, from Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
I take inspiration where I can find it. So I keep trying, keep working. I make various efforts to improve the political situation. And I continue doing therapy, doing research to develop the standard of care, training therapists, and building the nonprofit org to have ever greater impact. In the hope that, sooner or later, the forces of good will prevail. And meanwhile, saving a starfish here and there… It’s not everything. But it’s something.