Studying The Psychological Impact Of TerrorismContact: Lisa Finnegan
Contact: Lisa Finnegan
New York — A universal condemnation of terrorism and a deluge of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases would be easy to understand following the horrors of the Sept. 11 attacks. However, two recent studies conducted by two Fordham psychology professors found that the impact of the event has not been so easy to predict.
A survey assessing people’s feelings toward terrorism found that U.S. residents are not uniformly opposed to terrorism. Instead, feelings range from abhorrence to support, according a study by Professor Harold Takooshian, Ph.D.
“Though 82 percent labeled terrorism as never an acceptable tactic, the more detailed scale showed a wide range of attitudes—from abhorrence to acceptance and even advocacy of terrorism among some Americans,” said Takooshian, who used an Attitude Toward Terrorism scale he developed in 1993 to poll 309 people in and around New York City. “I was surprised because it’s counterintuitive.”
Additionally, the results indicate that exposure to terrorism makes victims more accepting of terrorism as a political tactic. Following the terrorist attacks, people exhibited more anger, suspicion of strangers and patriotism.
In a second study, Visiting Professor Anie Kalayjian, Ed.D., R.N., examined the psychosocial and spiritual impact of Sept. 11 on mental health workers, students and spiritual counselors. Although many of those who witnessed the terror of Sept. 11 may suffer from PTSD, the spiritual counselors surveyed showed no signs of it and the students had few. The biggest effect was on mental health workers, according to the study.
“Mental health professionals listen to clients’ stories and are highly traumatized by them and their feelings of helplessness at not being able to meet the demands of the event itself,” Kalayjian said. “There were very few venues for them to empower themselves to do something. All calls were directed to the Red Cross and many counselors who wanted to help couldn’t get through or were turned down.”
Kalayjian questioned 119 students, mental health practitioners and pastoral counselors living in the New York area about their emotional responses to the terrorist attacks. Participants were asked if they experienced flashbacks, numbing, sleep disturbances and other signs of PTSD.
She found that mental health practitioners showed the highest levels of PTSD, with pastoral health counselors showing no symptoms. Although the majority of students polled showed few signs of PTSD, 28.6 percent showed mild signs, 23.8 percent showed moderate signs and 2.8 percent exhibited severe signs.
In August, Takooshian and Kalayjian presented their findings at the American Psychological conference in Chicago.
Founded in 1841, Fordham is New York City’s Jesuit university. It has residential campuses in the north Bronx, Manhattan and Tarrytown, and the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y.