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Workers Seek Counseling in Aftermath of Attacks

11 Oct. 2011

By Jodie Snyder

The Sept. 11 attacks are four weeks past and more than 2,000 miles away, but Valley employees assistance programs say they are busier than ever comforting local workers affected by the tragedy.

EAP Preferred, which has contracts covering 200,000 employees, has had inquiries from 90 more businesses interested in employee assistance programs.

Dr. Ken Goldberg, the company's president, said he has seen a 400 percent increase in calls from existing and prospective clients. He has hired four people and asked staffers to work overtime.

"Employers are doing it for humanitarian and practical reasons," he said.

Businesses have seen workers, racked by helplessness and fear, cry, complain of stomachaches and headaches, and be paralyzed into inactivity, Goldberg said.

At Contact, the Valley's largest employee-assistance program, staffers have put in 100 hours above and beyond the organization's normal 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In addition to requests for counseling, eight to 10 large employers called Contact because they want refresher courses in diversity.

"Companies hire folks from all over the world. Some employees now may look at people from the Middle East differently," said Julio Benezra, Contact's coordinator of traumatic event response services.

Employee assistance programs have had to field a variety of problems because everyone had their own reaction to the attacks.

There was counseling via phone of airline workers stranded at airports immediately after the attacks. Some had flown near the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and saw the destruction. Other could easily imagine themselves being attacked on the plane, Benezra said.

Contact also counseled Valley employees whose cyber colleagues died in New York.

"They never met them in person, but they talked with them every day," Benezra said.

Benezra said he immediately flashed to his own memories of being drafted for the Vietnam War and worried what would happen to his sons, who are 16 and 20 years old.

"Your reaction depends on your life experience," he said.

Despite the individual reactions, there is also a universal feeling of insecurity.

"To get by in life, we have always had to suppress the knowledge that there are many risks out there," he said. "Now we are confronted with our own vulnerability."

Counselors offer this advice:

• Realize that everyone has physical reactions to troubling news. Their bodies tense up, their necks ache, their stomachs and heads throb.
• Remain informed but avoid repeated exposure to the news. Seeing the same image of a plane flying into a tower isn't helpful, Gold berg said.
• Set boundaries. "People can tell themselves 'I am focusing on my family and friends." It gives them some sense of control," Benezra said.

He also suggests people be patient with themselves and others.

"We don't have a lot of filing drawers in the brain. So the mind is working very hard to make sense out of this."

Copyright 2001. Used with permission from The Arizona Republic.

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