School therapists are in the news a lot in recent weeks and months. While this may seem like a good thing, a lot of it is due to finger-pointing. The blame game continues in the wake of school shootings and violence. Many people are looking and asking why school therapists did not see warning signs about students to prevent events that unfolded.
If a student comes to you and confides in you that they have violent thoughts, do you know what to do next? As a mandated reporter, you must do something. Take thorough notes to document what you have heard, seen, or are concerned about. From this point, it is important to know what the protocol is within your school or district. Reports now show that the shooter in the Parkland, Florida mass shooting told a school therapist that he saw himself in dreams killing people and covered in blood. This was over four years before the horrific event unfolded in the high school he later attended.
Many wonder how this fell through the cracks if they knew his tendencies. We do know that they created a safety plan to make sure others were safe around him over the summer after that dream. Thanks to the notes taken by the therapists at the time, we are able to see in detail how they did things over time. Of course, we all know this did not end well. Over time, more therapists noted extremely volatile behavior.
How do schools move beyond their walls when concerns for a student continue? It is more important than ever for all members of the school community to know who they can go to if they fear violence. They must know if they need to call outside psychological support, the police, or perhaps something specific to your community. The key is staying on top of things.
Accepting Limitations and Releasing Feelings of Guilt
As we know from Parkland, documenting everything may not be enough. It is important to understand the limitations of your job. As a school therapist, you cannot be blamed for not catching something horrible if it happens. Going over and over in your head about different scenarios will not fix what already occurred.
Take time to talk with your peers. Get things off your mind that need to be said. It is critical to be able to accept your limitations. In addition to this, you must be willing to release any feelings of guilt. While you could not stop the violence, you must be there for the community to support them and yourself in the time of need. Make sure to take care of yourself because traumatizing events can take a lot out of you.
Does your school have a protocol set up for where to go if a student reports violent tendencies or fantasies? Please share what has worked well in your building to make sure that therapists are able to work through things after a traumatic event.