Home > NewsRelease > Tragedy at Fort Hood: Why did he do it? Vicarious Trauma a Possible Aggravating Factor
Tragedy at Fort Hood: Why did he do it? Vicarious Trauma a Possible Aggravating Factor
Beverly Smallwood, Ph.D.  The Hope Center Beverly Smallwood, Ph.D. The Hope Center
Hattiesburg, MS
Friday, November 6, 2009

The nation is stunned with the news that a psychiatrist, one charged with the sacred duty of helping our soldiers, has apparently committed heinous acts resulting in the deaths of 13 people and injuries to 30 more. The "why's" are vague at this point – ideological issues and even terrorist possibilities loom large. Combat-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, when this man has never been deployed? Oddly enough, a form of PTSD is possible. Certainly this is not an excuse in this horrible act. But in terms of understanding how this alleged shooter was thinking, this discussion is relevant.

1. The problem of vicarious traumatization is a growing issue among mental health professionals. This occurs when the helping professional becomes traumatized over time from listening to and empathizing with their clients' stories of traumatic events and horrific emotional reactions.

2. In this case, Major Hasan now faced the experience of the very horrors he had experienced vicariously in the myriad of accounts he had listened to in his years at Walter Reed and at Fort Hood. In other words, when, as his cousin said, "his worst nightmare," deployment loomed, he saw himself in the scenarios he had "already experienced."

3. The reactions we see in mental health and other healthcare professionals who have experienced vicarious traumatization have every symptom of PTSD from direct experience: re- the trauma, avoidance, numbing of responsiveness, and hyperarousal.

4. It is highly unusual that such a drastic and violent reaction would occur from vicarious traumatization alone. However, the intimate knowledge he had of the experience of deployment could have been one of the factors that sent him over the edge to implement horrific plans he had probably considered for other reasons.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is psychologist, trauma specialist, and author of "This Wasn't Supposed to Happen to Me: 10 Make-or-Break Choices When Life Steals Your Dreams and Rocks Your World. She's the Founder of The Hope Center, a psychological counseling and organizational consulting organization. Dr. Smallwood also is an psychological expert in criminal cases and in civil cases involving Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Bev is a highly experienced media resource. See more about her work at www.DrBevSmallwood.com – particularly in the Media section of her website. Dr. Bev may be contacted at 601-408-0735 or 601-264-0890.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Beverly Smallwood, Ph.D.
Title: Psychologist
Group: The Hope Center
Dateline: Hattiesburg, MS United States
Direct Phone: 601-264-0890
Cell Phone: 601.408.0735
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