Originally posted on USA TODAY
By Jill Lieber, USA TODAY
Since the shark attack on Halloween, Kai Swigart, a Kauai psychologist, has devoted 200 hours to Bethany Hamilton, her family, her friends and her colleagues on the Hanalei Girls Surf Team to prevent the development of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kai Swigart uses his song ‘Blessing in Disguise’ as part of the healing process.
“It is important to get the feelings from the inside to the outside,” says Swigart, who offered these services to the Kauai community in his role as a provider of faith-based Christian support. He opened and closed each debriefing with a prayer, as he noted, “It is helpful to involve the source of true healing whenever possible.”
Kim Brady, a mother of two daughters who train with Hamilton on the Hanalei Girls Surf Team, says the debriefing sessions were crucial to getting Kauai’s young surfers back into the water after the incident.
“For a couple of weeks, the kids were afraid to surf,” Brady says. “The ocean is their playground, and nobody wanted to go out and play. We had to get them to understand that the shark attack was a fluke, that there was no explanation or reason we could give them. We had to get them to focus on the fact that Bethany was alive, that she’s our friend and that we’re one big ohana (family).”
Swigart’s debriefing has seven phases:
Set the tone
Debriefing leader introduces the process and creates expectations of success. “This is where the leader gently prepares participants for the process they are about to experience,” Swigart says.
Each participant describes the crisis event from his or her perspective on a cognitive (thought-based not feeling-based) level.
Who are you? What happened? What was your role in the incident? What is your relationship to the victim? How did you learn from the incident?
“This helps break the ice, in a pretty safe way, and begins to complete the puzzle for many who experienced only a piece of the event,” he says. “People really need to tell their story, it is bursting to come out, and this gives them the chance.”
Each participant describes his or her cognitive reactions, then transitions to emotional reactions.
Two questions generally asked:
What were some of your thoughts when you experienced or learned of the crisis event? Since you first dealt with the incident, what thoughts have you had about how this event might effect you?
“This often opens the floodgates, creates camaraderie and support among those participating, and promotes the much-needed release,” he says.
Each participant describes the worst part of the crisis event.
Questions and statements include:
What was the worst thing about it for you? Describe your physical reactions and feelings since the crisis event. If you could miraculously erase one of your thoughts or images of the crisis event, what would it be?
“This helps people continue processing their feelings, and focus more specifically on what has impacted them the most,” he says.
Each participant identifies signs or symptoms of distress encountered during or after the crisis event. The debriefing leader begins transitioning participants back to a more cognitive level, reviews common symptoms and processes questions/statements.
The debriefing leader educates participants regarding typical reactions, introduces coping strategies and transitions participants further from emotions.
The debriefing leader prepares for the end of the meeting, summarizes experiences, clarifies questions and offers follow-up services, support and referrals.