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While college campuses are relatively safe environments, the promise of safety and security on campus was shattered by a single gunman on April 16, 2007. Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot 49 students and faculty, killing 32, before killing himself. The authors are psychologists and directors of university counseling centers; they examine the many implications of this tragedy on mental health counseling. The assailant's significant psychological disturbances and previous contact with mental health professionals are critical to understanding how he was able to act out his murderous rage. The mental health response to a traumatized community of families, friends, colleagues, and peers is reviewed. Out of the tragedy, there have emerged many issues that challenge the role of counseling centers within the university including the development of threat assessment teams, the potential conflicts between client confidentiality and crisis prevention/management, and the on-going education for the university community regarding suicide prevention, mental illness and support for potentially marginalized students.
Tragedy at Virginia Tech:
Trauma and Its Aftermath
Christopher Flynn
Virginia Tech
Dennis Heitzmann
Pennsylvania State University
hate blows a bubble of despair into
hugeness world system universe and bang
–fear buries a tomorrow under woe
and up comes yesterday most green and young
—e e cummings (1940)
On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior English major at Virginia
Tech, shot 49 students and faculty, killing 32, before turning his gun on
himself and committing suicide in front of wounded survivors. This horrific
tragedy now enters history as the largest single act of violence at an
American university. What was clearly an incomprehensible criminal act
quickly became a mental health emergency that challenged counseling psy-
chologists and other mental health practitioners to respond to the needs of
families and friends of the deceased, to the wounded survivors, and to a
traumatized community—this in addition to the struggle to understand the
motivations of this deeply disturbed young man who so carefully planned
the murders and his own death. As directors of university counseling centers,
we will examine the tragic event, the mental health response, and some of
the controversial social and psychological issues that have emerged in the
SUENG-HUI CHO (1/18/84–4/16/07)
What we know of Cho emerges from interviews with family members
given to investigators (Virginia Tech Review Panel, 2007) as well as the
written and videotaped materials he himself mailed to the media between
killing his first 2 victims and the remaining 30. Cho’s family emigrated
from Korea in 1992 when he was 8 years old. Quiet and socially anxious as
a child, Cho experienced significant academic and social distress during his
DOI: 10.1177/0011000008314787
© 2008 by the Division of Counseling Psychology.
years in middle school and high school. During this period, he was diag-
nosed as suffering from extreme social anxiety, depression, and selective
mutism. Cho’s isolation from peers and the external world was extraordinary;
he appears to have never formed a close relationship with another human
being apart from his immediate family of parents and older sister.
While still in eighth grade (1999), Cho’s teachers and art therapist were
disturbed by his withdrawn behavior and his writings, which included an
expressed desire “to repeat Columbine. Alerted by the school, Cho’s
parents arranged for a psychiatric evaluation with resultant diagnoses of
major depression and selective mutism. The psychiatrist prescribed paroxetine
(20 mg), which Cho took for almost a year. It was then discontinued when
his depression appeared to have improved. While in high school, Cho
received special education for “Emotional Disabilities and Speech and
Language,” including language and art therapy as well as accommodations
for oral presentations. When Cho was admitted to Virginia Tech in 2003, no
information regarding his mental health history, special needs accommoda-
tions, or the desire “to repeat Columbine” accompanied him. When Cho
was assessed and hospitalized during his junior year of college (2005), he
denied any history of prior counseling or pharmacologic treatment.
Cho’s social isolation and alienation continued at Virginia Tech; while
he lived with roommates and attended classes regularly, he never formed
any ongoing social relationships. His limited attentions to several young
women were perceived as weird or threatening while projecting self-hatred,
for example, he left the following quote from Romeo and Juliet on the white
board outside a young woman’s room:
By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am
My name, dear saint is hateful to myself
Because it is an enemy to thee
Had I it written, I would tear the word
Her father contacted the Virginia Tech Police, who interviewed Cho.
After being questioned, Cho sent a text message to a roommate stating, “I
might as well kill myself.” The father of his roommate reported his suicidal
ideation to campus police, who asked Cho to return to their office on the
evening of December 13, 2005. Because a potential involuntary hospital-
ization was being considered, the police called the community mental
health center for an emergency evaluation—the protocol in Virginia has the
mental health agency apply to the magistrate for a temporary detention
order. After his evaluation by an experienced emergency clinician, Cho was
considered to represent an imminent danger to self and was transported to
a local hospital with a psychiatric unit. He was hospitalized overnight and
released on the last day of the semester to return home for Christmas break
(December 14, 2005). His parents likely never knew of this hospitalization
prior to his death.
The depth of Cho’s isolation and alienation were revealed in the video-
taped material he prepared in the weeks prior to his death (MSNBC, April
19, 2007):
You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul, and torched my conscience.
You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing.
And the “you” apparently were his peers:
You never felt an ounce of pain,
your Mercedes weren’t enough, you brats,
your golden chains weren’t enough, you snobs
your trust fund wasn’t enough
your drunken debaucheries weren’t enough
you drove me to do this
Alone and rageful, Cho’s diatribe appears paranoid and delusional. The
paranoid constellation of rage, projection, and rationalization coalesced
around this unknown “you” who was responsible for his pain and agony, a
pain he had not shared with any other human. Despite his paranoia and
delusions, Cho was able to stay focused enough to order his weapons, prac-
tice shooting, tape his diatribes, and carefully plan his killing spree. Sadly,
his parents called Sunday evening, April 15, to check and see how their son
was faring and whether he was in need of anything—his parents reported
that Cho said nothing to them that evening that was out of the ordinary.
Cho, in many ways, was typical of school shooters: He had a history of
feeling persecuted, of previous suicidal ideation, and of writing material
with suicidal and homicidal ideation, and like other shooters, he was careful
in his planning, did not threaten his victims previously, and was stopped by
his own hand (Fein, Vossekuil, Pollack, Borum, Modzeleski, & Reddy,
2002). Unlike other shooters, Cho kept his plans for a killing rampage to
himself, mailing his bizarre and distorted rationalization less than an hour
before his death.
Monday, April 16, 2007. Cho first killed two students in West Ambler
Johnston, a residence hall at Virginia Tech, shortly after 7:00 a.m.; after check-
ing his e-mail back at his residence suite in a nearby building at 7:25 a.m., he
left campus and mailed his package to the media from the local post office
at 9:01 a.m. and then returned to Norris Hall, an academic building, and
began shooting again at approximately 9:40 a.m. By the time first responders
entered Norris Hall 8 min after police received the initial report of gunfire
there, he had shot 47 students and faculty, killing 30. As police and rescue
workers removed the bodies of the deceased and evacuated the survivors,
they reported haunting memories of cell phones ringing in body bags as
parents and friends desperately called their loved ones. The deceased were
sons and daughters, spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, lovers, friends,
classmates, and “Hokies”—members of the extended Virginia Tech com-
munity of 27,000 students and 4,500 faculty and staff. They left behind
loved ones devastated by loss and grief. While all sudden and violent death
is traumatizing for family members and friends, the death of a child is the
loss rated as most painful to endure; 28 of the deceased were students ranging
in age from 18 to 32. Seventeen other students were shot by Cho and survived
with all of the physical and psychological sequelae of trauma. Another 17
students were in the classrooms attacked by Cho and, although physically
unharmed, certainly underwent a traumatic experience. While Virginia Tech
is a relatively large school, its rural setting, close-knit community, and
small town setting allows for unusually close relationships among the
members of the university. In a recent survey (Hughes et al., 2007), more
than half of Virginia Tech students reported knowing one of the deceased;
an additional 30% were one more degree of separation removed, that is,
knew a friend of one of the deceased. In the larger community of Blacksburg,
many town residents are connected with the university and experienced sig-
nificant distress from the shootings.
The recognition of the shootings as a mental health emergency was
immediate and the response began within a half hour of the first shooting
in the residence hall. Two counseling psychologists at the Cook Counseling
Center of Virginia Tech began working with friends and fellow residents of
the first two victims before 8:00 a.m. and crisis counseling with these stu-
dents was underway as the news of the second shooting came through
police radios 2 hours later. As news reports of casualties mounted, local
community mental health providers and the disaster response network
responded immediately to Tech as police set up headquarters at a campus
facility. Late in the afternoon and well into the next morning, mental health
providers met with family members during the death notifications and were
present to assist them as they awaited the release of their loved ones’
remains. By the next day, members of the counseling center joined with
representatives from academic programs in clinical psychology, counselor
education, and marriage and family therapy; the employee assistance program;
community agencies; and the local mental health association to begin planning
for a comprehensive response to the tragedy. This network of professionals
was generally constant and met daily during the first week to coordinate
and plan intervention activities. Within the first week after the shootings,
psychologists and counselors from all areas met with more than 120 groups
ranging from 3 to the 30,000 that attended the university convocation on
Tuesday. Walk-in hours were established for students at the Cook
Counseling Center from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., including weekends
from Monday and through the first 3 weeks; concurrently, faculty and staff
were seen individually at three sites across campus and, together, more than
1,000 individuals were seen during the first week after the shootings. When
the university decided to resume classes on the Monday (April 23) following
the shootings, this coordinating committee had arranged for more than 300
volunteers to meet and disseminate to classes where one of the injured or
deceased had been a member. At graduation some 4 weeks later, mental
health professionals were present at each of the 28 graduation programs.
Among the network of professionals were counseling and clinical psy-
chologists who had worked with previous disasters, including Hurricane
Katrina (Flynn, 2005; Jones, 2006). Based on clinical experience and
research data, their planning included the following assumptions:
Those most directly affected by the shootings would be most likely to suffer
from acute stress and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); this included stu-
dents and faculty present in the classes who were attacked and who survived,
family and friends of the deceased, and those present in Norris Hall or in
West Ambler Johnston at the time of the shootings as well as witnesses and
first responders.
The psychologically vulnerable and socially isolated would be less likely to
find social support following the tragedy and to need psychological assis-
tance; this included concerns for students of Asian descent who worried
about reaction to Cho being generalized to other Asian students or to inter-
national students.
The base level of anxiety and distress would be raised across the university
The effects of the trauma could be manifested for several years following the
Mental health planning needed to include increased hours in direct service
for practitioners and to be informed by careful research.
In their survey of students, faculty, and staff conducted at 3 months fol-
lowing the shootings, Hughes et al. (2007) reported that among students, at
least 5% self-reported significant symptoms of PTSD and an additional
21% reported symptoms consistent with elevated risk for PTSD; among faculty
and staff, the numbers were 3% and 17%, respectively. Approximately 10%
of students had sought counseling since the shootings and 28% indicated a
need to seek counseling. Use of the Cook Counseling Center increased 35%
in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, and this increase in usage has
continued into the 2007–2008 academic year. The Cook Counseling Center
has increased the number of counseling psychologists on staff, added a case
management position, and added additional hours for the psychiatry service.
It is challenging to not be forestalled in the angst, trauma, sadness, and
anger generated by the tragedy of April 16, 2007. There is likely not one
among us who has not been impacted in some way, either directly through
personal knowledge of an individual from that campus or indirectly by the
compelling belief that “it could have happened on my campus as well. Yet
the potential for stunned, slow-forming reactivity in the aftermath of this
tragedy has been superseded by burgeoning interest, increasing energy, and
passionate initiative in the belief that counseling psychologists, in view of
our traditional central role as college counselors and university mental
health specialists, have much to offer in response to the lessons learned in
every phase of this episode. As has been cited in benchmark articles in the
past (see Guinee & Ness, 2000; Stone & Archer, 1990), counseling centers
and their leaders must assert their pivotal role and offer focused expertise
in matters of critical importance to the campus community. Indeed, the
traditional pervasive role of counseling psychologists in campus counseling
centers positions our profession to be a major contributor to the resolution
of this concern. From prevention to treatment to recovery and healing,
counseling psychologists have remained and must remain central, offering
contributions at each juncture. Perhaps this narrative and the impressions
we share will provide a template for policy makers, practitioners,
researchers, and others as we seek to advance our understanding of issues
related to campus violence.
In the wake of the tragedy, there have been innumerable reviews and
reports, each generating a lengthy list of wide-ranging recommendations
that challenge universities and mental health settings to provide direction
and response (Niles, 2007; Stewart, 2007; Virginia Tech Review Panel, 2007).
It is our hope to be able to mobilize and channel the energy expressed in the
aftermath of these tragic events in an effort to better understand our student
body and certain at-risk individuals within it, to assess and respond to
students along the spectrum of emotional well-being and illness, to become
informed about the deployment of staff in service to optimum campus mental
health, and to develop the tools to identify and respond to the needs of our
most distressed students.
Chief among the considerations germane to counseling psychology (and
the field at large) are the following:
1. The role and responsibility of the university counseling center in dealing
with the seriously mentally ill. Historically, university counseling centers
pursued their mission of service along the educational-developmental-
remedial spectrum of student need. However, as noted in the consistent
responses of counseling center directors to surveys throughout the past
decade (Gallagher, 2006), services have gravitated increasingly toward a
narrowing of function targeted to treating and managing more seriously
disturbed students. Ironically, the trend toward treating increased client
severity has been paralleled by the reduction in length of available on-campus
treatment due to restrictions on funding and staffing levels within most
counseling centers. In deploying staff and programs in service to the most
troubled students, the broader mandate of outreach and service to students
experiencing typical developmental challenges has been compromised. It is
clear that while the expectations for managing the needs of our more
seriously disturbed students remain, resources on most campuses remain
static. These circumstances likely increase risk across campuses by creating
an untenable mandate to do outreach and consultation, service all students
in need, and monitor the seriously ill. Ultimately, campus administrators
must give due consideration to the funding formula historically applied to
counseling centers with an eye toward improving the counseling center’s
ability to retain and treat students at risk and/or to create positions (such as
case managers) with responsibility for tracking referrals, connecting treatment
providers, and remaining well-positioned to respond to imminent threats to
our constituency.
2. Student privacy and the critical role of consultation. In the campus
climate of today, it appears that the privacy bar may be lowered and family
contacts may become more frequent. For instance, immediately following the
Virginia Tech incident, U.S. Representative Tim Murphy (PA) introduced a
Congressional bill designed to liberalize disclosure opportunities contained
within the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Prior to
the shootings at Virginia Tech, many campus administrators and faculty
were hesitant to make contact with either parents or other administrators in
view of the potential for repercussions and/or legal actions as a result of
compromising student privacy. In its original form, the proposed legislation
(H.R.2220) would allow for parental contact by a university administrator
subsequent to a mental health provider’s assessment and written certification
that a student is at risk to self or others. Unfortunately, the required certification
would likely slow the process of protection. Moreover, recent clarifications by
the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education (2007),
confirms that FERPA does indeed allow university administrators to contact
parents and/or others when there is an emergency affecting safety to oneself
or others. Thus, as of this writing, in response to opinions expressed by many,
the bill is likely to be modified, eliminating the required assessment/
certification. In the final analysis, most would agree that consultation between
mental health providers and campus administrators in cases of potential
danger is nearly always a good idea. Endorsing careful consultation, with
or without a legislative mandate, puts our profession in a central position to
strike a balance between protecting the campus while respecting the privacy
rights of the individual.
3. The emergence of the threat assessment team. The aftermath of the
Virginia Tech tragedy has witnessed the emergence of threat assessment
teams, student concern teams, and other groups designed to manage and
assess risk as it pertains to high profile or acting-out students on campus.
This is a way of reassuring the campus that select stakeholders are in the
same room, communicating across individual information silos. To some
degree, these efforts have always been present in various forms in response to
alarms sounded by deans, faculty, or staff to unsettling behavior on campus.
Of late, there is a movement toward formalizing these teams, requiring
more regular contact, encouraging referrals of troubling students for a team
review, and incorporating a broader range of participants (including
psychologists, dean of students, campus police, residence life, judicial affairs,
and occasionally faculty or staff). Finally, in view of the increasing involve-
ment of community agencies in the assessment and treatment of troubled
university students, consideration must be given to adding community
agency representatives to the team when appropriate and/or ensuring that
procedures are in place for ease of transmission of information from
community provider to campus counseling center. Among the key roles
assigned to a psychologist on a threat assessment team would be developing
a psychological profile of the individual of concern, sharing the mental health
perspective, educating the team on the nuance of psychological disturbance,
and determining an appropriate intervention for a given individual. Whereas
it is arguable that any psychologist can singularly predict the behavior of a
potential assailant such as Cho, no profession is better prepared to contribute
to the review of threat in pursuit of balanced, well-considered discussion of
these matters. Needless to say, with more than 15 million students enrolled
in higher education, the prediction of campus violence remains a vexing
problem. While most would acknowledge that our profession has been only
marginally successful in making such predictions, there is a growing body of
literature to guide our decision making with potentially violent individuals
(see, e.g., DePue, Appendix M-2, Virginia Tech Review Panel, 2007). Finally,
continuing efforts to clarify differential patterns of risk and predictable
behavior will remain an invaluable contribution to enhancing safety on our
4. Advocacy for the emotionally challenged. Unfortunately, in our rush to
act following April 16, some faculty and staff have become hypervigilant to
identify the next potential perpetrator. Counseling center staff members have
noted a somewhat surprising phenomenon in the days subsequent to the
Virginia Tech tragedy: Students who on April 15 may have been identified as
odd, unusual, different, or eccentric became on the 17th potentially risky or
dangerous to others and meriting scrutiny by a mental health professional!
This development underscores that there is still much education to be done in
reducing or eliminating the stigma and misunderstanding associated with
emotional illness. We have dedicated our careers to helping these individuals
recognize that they include the best and brightest on our campuses, hold lead-
ership positions, aspire to productive futures, and in their own unique way
add to the diversity of our campuses. Clearly, psychologists play a role in
providing a balanced view of emotionally challenged students, responding to
legitimate concerns about threat but also advocating for our clients to those
with unwarranted fears and stereotypic posturing.
5. Beware the “business” of violence prevention. Unfortunately, the
entrepreneurial spirit of business professionals has allowed for the co-opting
of concern (and occasional panic) generated by the climate of fear on our
campuses. There appears to be an industry forming around threat assessment
methodology and instrumentation, campus consultation to reduce risk, and
mass screenings of students on our campuses. It is incumbent on our profession
to assess the validity of these offerings and to ensure that scientific rigor has
been associated with the development of each. Let us use the means available
to us as scientist-practitioners to ensure that we are getting the very best in
tools at our disposal to reduce risk and assuage violence on our campuses.
6. The impending collision between privacy/confidentiality and crisis
prevention/management. Perhaps the greatest attention of late has been paid
to improving communication patterns that allow for timely and reliable
communication across departmental and professional bounds to share
information on individuals of concern. The current climate presses for a
broad articulation of our restrictive confidentiality covenants, which have
remained unaltered in service to complete confidentiality except in cases of
imminent risk to self or others. In general, due to the primacy of confiden-
tiality, psychologists have avoided engaging others in the therapeutic
process unless it appeared to be absolutely essential. To what extent can we
be cooperative and collegial in our efforts to ensure a safe campus? Should
staff counselors make routine requests for authorizations to share information
with administrators and academic deans in the best interest of our client but
also our campus? How would potential compromises affect our image and
relationship with our constituency? How do we define imminent risk his-
torically and in the current context? We are increasingly challenged to
review our positions on all of these questions while respecting legal and
ethical professional codes. For example, the Virginia Tech Review Panel (2007)
recommended that counseling centers notify the campus Threat Assessment
Team when a student has been the subject of an involuntary hospitalization;
is this necessary when the student is in custody and receiving appropriate
levels of psychological treatment? Second, much attention has been paid to
the failure to link Cho’s high school mental health records to Virginia Tech.
It has been argued that access to Cho’s previous treatment files would have
proven to be useful in gauging the need for continuing treatment and tracking.
On the other hand, in the absence of compelling detail about current risk
and threat, is it reasonable to require the routing of an unbroken thread of
clinical information from primary to secondary to collegiate educational
institutions? Whereas it is unclear how policy and legislative actions will
play out in responding to the press for “tracking” students with serious
emotional problems, it is incumbent on our profession to play an advisory
role in these deliberations.
7. The need for comprehensive data and trend analysis on college stu-
dent mental health. With the exception of end-of-year surveys that have
served our profession well, there has been little comparative data available
on an ongoing basis that informs our practice in service to emotionally
needy students. On the horizon, however, is a promising new development:
the Center for the Study of College Student Mental Health (
.edu/caps/research_center.shtml) has been endorsed by nearly 150 university
counseling centers, each agreeing to use emergent data management systems
to generate common data sets on student mental health. As this project
moves to fruition, campuses will be able to track and monitor national mental
health trends while comparing their own campus performance to others in
a more systematic manner.
8. Restoring peace, harmony, and a sense of safety on our campuses.
One of the most sweeping and significant consequences of the Virginia
Tech episode was the wave of unsettling emotions that swept across our
campuses. The sense of vulnerability, direct threat, and the shattering of the
usual sense of safety reverberated across our nation’s campuses. At the
source of this discomfort is the knowledge that our institutions are indeed
more alike than different at the core. In the final analysis, we are all Virginia
Tech: The events that unfolded on and after April 16 simply provided the
aperture through which to view ourselves. In that light, we are all witnessing
the continuing dis-ease on our campuses. The optimal outcome will be to use
this opportunity to take the lead in addressing the host of issues emanating
from the trauma of Virginia Tech, to use the means available to us to restore
a sense of harmony and safety while supporting our administrations as they
prepare in every way possible to avoid a similar incident on any of our
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Flynn, Heitzmann / TRAGEDY AT VIRGINIA TECH 11
... In addition to possible stressors related to organizational arrangements, traumatic events on campuses, such as the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, have resulted in counseling staff having to rethink forms of communication with campus administrators (Flynn & Heitzmann, 2008). Although increased communication between counselors and administrators may be warranted, the conflict between the traditional roles of counseling centers and ethical considerations with new threats to campus has led counselors into uncharted territory. ...
... It was an assuring finding that counselors who held an administrative position within their center manifested solution orientation behaviors with their supervisors. Given the difficult challenges that current counseling centers face, such as increases in demands for services, budgetary concerns, and increased threats to campus (Flynn & Heitzmann, 2008;Gallagher, 2012), this is an ideal initial finding regarding counseling center and institutional relations. ...
This quantitative study examined the perceptions of college and university counselors (N = 669) regarding their ethical environment, job satisfaction, and ways of dealing with organizational conflict. Findings indicated that counselors manifested an average, but not positive, perception of their ethical environment. Job satisfaction was highest among counselors employed at small institutions. While variable, communication conflict styles indicated possible power struggles occurring within counseling centers. Implications for campus-based counseling centers are discussed.
... If we wanted the articles in the Forum to be timely, we needed shorter articles, and we needed to have a different process for a manuscript to be reviewed and revised prior to publication. The inaugural article was "Tragedy at Virginia Tech: Trauma and Aftermath" (Flynn & Heitzmann, 2008). Six Practice Fora followed Flynn and Heitzmann's article. ...
The living editors of The Counseling Psychologist provide reflections on their editorial terms to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Journal. They recall their vision for the Journal and include noteworthy accomplishments and changes during their terms. Two members of The Counseling Psychologist’s 50th Anniversary Committee provided retrospective accounts for editors Fretz and Stone.
... Those in the threat assessment community have spent considerable time and resources to better understand and prevent incidents of targeted and strategic violence such as the Virginia Tech Massacre (Flynn and Heitzmann 2008), Northern Illinois University Shooting (Vann 2008), Umpqua College Shooting (Vanderhart et al. 2015), the Santa Monica College Shooting (Groves et al. 2013), and the shootings by James Holmes (Elliot 2013) and Jared Loughner (Roy 2011). Despite these efforts, there is a need for updated exploration and study that considers the common thread of radical ideology on the potential to move to violence with the context of the college campus in mind. ...
Full-text available
In the wake of recent escalations and attacks involving members of college and university communities, the authors explore a specific and detailed investigation of how a student, faculty, or staff's radical ideologies can move from strongly held beliefs to extremist violence. Using a case study methodology in addition to a literature review, the authors identify and summarize 30 cases of violence or terrorism motivated by an ideological belief to identify the factors related to violent extremism. This article examines risk factors for violent extremism, mobilization factors contributing to violent actions, and protective factors that reduce the potential for violence to provide a risk assessment model for college and university behavioral intervention teams or threat assessment teams.
Objective: Targeted gun violence in schools, once uncommon tragedies, are now regular occurrences in the United States. Since 2018, there have been 533 incidents of gun violence in schools that resulted in death or injuries (Everytown for Gun Safety, 2022). Crisis response and recovery for these school communities are lengthy. Community crisis response teams often assist school districts in the immediate response; however, responsibility for immediate and ongoing interventions often falls onto the school-based mental health professionals, particularly social workers. Minimal empirical data is available regarding the experiences of “emotional first responders,” and no studies address school social workers specifically, who are personally and professional impacted by these events. This qualitative study examined the lessons learned from school social workers providing crisis response and recovery to school communities impacted by mass targeted gun violence. Specifically, this study sought to understand how school social workers navigate providing support that is often beyond their explicit roles in the school while experiencing and managing the impacts of trauma for themselves and in their communities. Method: The researcher used grounded theory methodology to learn from the experiences of 12 MSW-prepared school social workers employed by an impacted school district at the time of mass targeted gun violence or contracted in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Multiple participants from three school districts were recruited to prevent one single point of view. Each participant completed two semi-structured interviews at two- to four-week intervals to examine their personal and professional experiences during the crisis response and recovery. The researcher used semi-structured interview guides designed to elicit experience and meaning making around additional responsibilities, crisis response preparation, and the ability to manage personal and professional impact of the trauma. Specific questions about prior training elicited perceptions on levels of confidence in crisis response and recovery skills. Data analysis used the constant comparative approach, consistent with grounded theory, to complete open and thematic inductive coding and theoretical coding grounded in systems theory and relational cultural theory concepts. Findings: All participants discussed the importance of connection or relationship with colleagues, students, administration, and families in the response and recovery process. Students, staff, parents, and social workers all worked toward reconnection after unimaginable violence shattered the perceived safety within their workplaces and their communities. Connection through processing and supervision were critical especially in the management of STS and VT symptoms. These connections further assisted with relational resilience and empowerment as the communities moved through the phases of crisis response and recovery. Participants reinforced that response and recovery is an ongoing endeavor that requires intervention on multiple systems levels. The magnitude of the trauma often requires social workers to assume additional responsibilities outside their normative scope of practice. Participants felt their MSW education, specifically field education, provided adequate preparation for basic crisis response, but lacked the specialization to provide recovery support around the intensity of targeted gun violence-related trauma and the needs across systems in recovery and rebuilding efforts. The need and challenge of seeking out sufficient self-care for social workers also emerged. Discussion and Implications: School social workers reported varied preparation and supports as they navigated the intersection of professional and personal trauma in the context of complex school, community, and political systems. Important factors for managing personal impact included supervision that provided both the opportunity to connect with colleagues to process/debrief their feelings and clinical case support consultation to minimize professional risk. Professional systems of support, including predictable schedules for debriefing and formal school sponsored self-care activities, should be included during the workday to improve access and engagement. To address the expressed need for more specialized training, findings suggest that CSWE may consider developing content or require MSW programs to offer course and experiential work in crisis intervention techniques, such as Psychological First Aid, to assist social workers with identification of trauma reactions and associated treatment skills with the theoretical underpinnings for their use. Conclusion: The findings highlight the importance of connection and growth-fostering relationships in crisis response and trauma recovery. These findings also support previous research which indicated social workers and other emotional first responders are at high risk for secondary traumatic stress (STS) and vicarious trauma (VT). The implications of these findings extend beyond the social work profession and to first responders within other disciplines who are exposed to trauma in their work responsibilities. The findings also include social work education implications, specifically a gap in knowledge pertaining to more specialized crisis intervention skills.
The COVID-19 pandemic altered the college experience and substantially impacted emerging adults’ navigation of this life stage. This concurrent mixed-methods study used an online survey, distributed to a southeastern university shortly after the transition to remote learning, to explore and understand college-attending emerging adults’ experiences during COVID-19. A total of 1,220 students ( M age = 20.9) participated, and the diversity of the demographics was largely consistent with the university population. Participants completed questionnaires about psychopathology and COVID-related stressors, and they were given an opportunity to provide feedback to the university about the adjustment to COVID-19. The most common stressors included loss of routine, lack of social contact, and work/finances. Approximately two-thirds of participants reported anxiety and depression symptoms in the moderate to severe range, and about one-third reported suicidality. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for the ongoing crisis and offer recommendations for universities and college counselors.
Crisis Planning Primer: Common TermsCurrent State of Crisis Management Planning in Higher EducationBuilding Blocks for Crisis Management PlansThree Cs of Crisis Management PlanningSummary
Understanding ThreatsTriage Assessment Scale for Students in Learning Environments (TASSLE)Th reat Assessment TeamsSummary
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Infolge des Amoklaufs an der amerikanischen Univer-sität Virginia Tech im Jahr 2007, bei dem 32 Menschen erschossen wurden und der Täter selbst Suizid beging (Flynn & Heitzmann, 2008), begannen sich Hochschulen weltweit verstärkt mit dem Thema Gewaltprävention zu beschäftigen. In Deutschland kam noch eine Folge schwe-rer Attentate und Amokläufe an Schulen hinzu, mit zahl-reichen Toten (Hoffmann et al., 2009), die auch in ande-ren Bildungsorganisationen die Befürchtung weckten, nicht vor solchen Gewalttaten gefeit zu sein. Bedrohliches Verhalten in der akademischen Welt Als Reaktion hierauf, wurden zum einen an einigen Hoch-schulen im deutschsprachigen Raum Notfallpläne erstellt und Alarmierungssysteme installiert. Programme zur Gewaltprävention blieben die Ausnahme. Hierbei began-nen zunächst in Deutschland die TU Darmstadt und in der Schweiz die ETH Zürich ein sogenanntes Bedrohungs-management aufzubauen (Hoffmann, 2009). Dabei geht es um die Installierung eines Teams mit Angehörigen aus verschiedenen Hochschulbereichen, welches sich zum einen um eine interne Sensibilisierung für Warnsignale Gewaltprävention an Hochschulen hat im deutschsprachigen Raum in den vergangenen Jahren an Bedeutung gewonnen. Auslöser hierzu war zum einen der Amoklauf an der Uni-versität von Virginia Tech aus dem Jahr 2007. Zudem trat im vergangenen Jahrzehnt eine Reihe von schweren Gewalttaten an deutschen Schulen auf, die auch Universitäten und Hoch-schulen beunruhigten. Infolge dessen wurde in Deutschland und in der Schweiz an einigen Hochschulen ein sogenanntes Bedrohungsmanagement eingerichtet. Neben der Prävention von schweren Gewalttaten, geht es hierbei vor allem um die Prävention von Stalking, Drohungen und anderen Formen von grenzverletzendem Verhalten. Vor diesem Hintergrund wurde an einer deutschen Universität eine anonyme Erhe-bung durchgeführt. Dabei zeigte sich, dass 19 % der Befragten direkt oder indirekt mit bedrohlichem Verhalten an der Uni-versität konfrontiert gewesen waren. Am häufigsten traten hierbei Fälle von Stalking (23 %), von geäußerten Suizidab-sichten (22 %) und von Gewaltandrohungen (18 %) auf. Bedrohungsmanagement an Universitäten, Gewalt an Universitäten, Stalking, Gewaltdrohungen, Suiziddro-hungen At universities in German speaking countries prevention of violence become more and more a topic in the last years. The reason for this were the mass murder case at the University of Virginia Tech and a number of school shootings in Germany. As a reaction to that, in a few universities in Germany and Switzerland threat assessment teams were founded. Next to the prevention of targeted violence these teams take care of cases of stalking, threats and other forms of threatening behavior. At the same time research has not taken yet a bigger focus on threatening behavior at universities in German speaking countries. Due to that lack of information a study was undertaken at a German university looking for base rates of threatening behaviors. 19 % of the respondents reported having made personally experiences with problematic or threatening behavior at their university or knowing others who made such an experience. The highest rate was found for stalking (23 %), followed by suicidial ideation (22 %) and threats of violence (18 %). Abstract Eine Studie zur Auftretenshäufigkeit von Stalking, Drohungen, Gewalt und anderem Problemverhalten an einer deutschen Universität Bedrohliches Verhalten in der akademischen Welt Wissenschaft Polizei 2_12.indd 38 30.08.12 00:09
Counseling centers, along with the American system of higher education, face serious challenges in the coming decade. This article explores the challenges facing counseling centers, particularly as centers encounter a changing and unstable social and financial environment and consider undertaking a greater or lesser degree and variety of tasks. A strategic agenda is suggested for consideration in the 1990s.
Stone and Archer, in a prominent article, identified a variety of challenges that college and university counseling centers would face in the 1990s. They offered 43 recommendations, grouped by six counseling center functions, that centers could adopt to meet the challenges. Sixty-seven counseling center directors completed a survey designed to assess the extent to which Stone and Archer’s recommendations had been heeded in the 5-year period from 1990-1991 to 1995-1996. Significant positive increases (p < .001) in adherence were obtained for 23 recommendations (53.5%) with some change found in each one of the six counseling center functions. The survey results suggest that counseling centers actively responded to the many challenges they encountered in the first half of the decade.
Presidents internal review: Report of the working group on the interface between Virginia Tech counseling services, academic affairs, judicial affairs, and the legal systems
  • J Niles
Niles, J. (2007). Presidents internal review: Report of the working group on the interface between Virginia Tech counseling services, academic affairs, judicial affairs, and the legal systems. Retrieved from communications.pdf.
Katrina: Resources and recovery
  • C Flynn
Flynn, C. (2005). Katrina: Resources and recovery. Retrieved from emersite/recovery/flynn1.htm.
Investigation of the April 16
  • J Stewart
Stewart, J. (2007). Investigation of the April 16, 2007, critical incident at Virginia Tech. Retrieved from http//
Public health response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Applying lessons learned to mental health/substance abuse needs
  • R Jones
Jones, R. (2006). Public health response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Applying lessons learned to mental health/substance abuse needs. Retrieved from divisions/div45/images/jones_presentation.pdf.
Mass shootings at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech Review Panel. (2007). Mass shootings at Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007. Retrieved from