A few days later –– and after extensive television coverage –– children began to draw vivid images of blood, fire, planes crashing into buildings and stick figures jumping off of them. Parents worried that these graphic representations showed irreparable psychological damage soon learned that this was a healthy way for a child to express and work through the horror of 9/11.

Most if not all of us can remember where we were and what we were doing when we first learned sketchy details about something big happening in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. In reading this, you might even recall your own experience. 


The day the planes hit the World Trade Center, I was conducting play therapy with children who were a bit confused and shell-shocked, quite like all of us. 


A few days later –– and after extensive television coverage –– children began to draw vivid images of blood, fire, planes crashing into buildings and stick figures jumping off of them. Parents worried that these graphic representations showed irreparable psychological damage soon learned that this was a healthy way for a child to express and work through the horror of 9/11.


With any age, having strong reactions to a significant trauma is normal during the first month. If symptoms last more than a month, and there is still significant distress, the diagnosis is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. 


Post-traumatic stress disorder is defined in terms of the trauma itself and the person's response to the trauma. Trauma occurs when a person has experienced, witnessed or been confronted with a terrible event that is an actual occurrence. The person may have been threatened with a terrible event, injury or death –– either physical, psychological or both. The person's response involves intense fear, helplessness and horror. 


After the trauma, there is dysfunction of the normal defense systems, which results in certain warning signs: distressing and intrusive memories of the trauma; avoiding trauma-related feelings and activities or situations that may trigger memories of the trauma; and hyper arousal, such as sleep disturbances, irritability, anger outbursts, difficulty concentrating, increased vigilance and exaggerated startle responses.


A 2009 study found that people directly exposed to the World Trade Center attacks, such as office employees, residents and rescue workers, reported an increase of PTSD symptoms over time. Why? Do repetitive reminders of 9/11 intensify PTSD? Researchers don't have a bottom-line explanation for this because everyone has a different reaction. 


My daughter, 10-years-old at the time, watched the news clips over and over again. I found her looking at them the other day. I asked her if she still felt the same gut-wrenching dread, and she admitted it was not as hard as before, but it was still sad to remember. 


For me, the threat of knowing that this could happen again seems to be a logical reason why we might experience a collective post-traumatic reaction. And if that is true, we are never far from the media talking about the next terrorist attack or a YouTube video showing every angle of the fiery hits. 


So what can we do to cope with the continued feelings we have about that day? There are all types of psychotherapeutic approaches to healing, and trauma therapists can help this process. But if we focus on doing something in our lives to bring about healing, then we are taking charge of our sense of powerlessness. 


It is my hope that those who visit the 9/11 site in New York and experience the reflecting pools find solace that Americans only become stronger in the face of adversity. 


So in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, do something courageous and self-motivating. I will be riding in a local biking event for the first time.  Others will enjoy a beautiful, full harvest moon and retreat to nature for solace. What will you do?


Linda Castor, RN, LCPC, is a nurse and psychotherapist at Clocktower Therapy Center in Springfield, Ill., who treats anxiety, trauma and other mental health issues. Castor can be reached at www.LindaCastor.com.


-- Be Healthy Springfield (Ill.)