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SDGLN talks to a psychologist about feelings, healing after Orlando

The San Diego community grieves the innocent victims lost in Orlando at Monday's rally.
Photo credit:
San Diego Union Tribune

In the wake of the Orlando attacks, it may be hard to describe the feelings that one is going through. Not even a week has passed and the world has already seen universal vigils, rallies and other events which honor those innocent lives affected by the tragedy.

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reached out to psychologist  Dr. Andrew Adler for advice on what people might be feeling, recognizing their grieving process and what to expect in the coming weeks following the attack.

Dr. Adler is a practicing psychologist from Nashville TN. He specializes in mental health, especially in the LGBT refugee community.

Dr. Adler says that even though some people were not at the scene of the shootings, we are all connected to it in some way. It may not be a personal connection, but it is a situation of which we can identify.

He recalls a recent client who told him he knew someone directly involved with the shooting, “Suddenly, I know a victim,” Adler said. “Another client told me that he worked with a man who was in the club that night. Gradually, it all becomes more clear to us that we can identify with people going out to the club, dancing, having a good time, and TV replays it over and over.”

Televised memorial locations filled with candles, flowers and the grieving citizens is a reminder that we have experienced this before. It stirs up emotions and re-invigorates feelings we thought we had resolved.

It’s normal to feel anger, Dr. Adler says, even rage. On the opposite end, people may go numb, into shock and easily be overwhelmed and devastated, “You may feel that you want to shut down, or hide, or you may want to immediately do something that you feel may make a difference,” he said. “There may be many emotions at the same time.”

No matter what emotions you have after the event, it is important recognize them as a part of your healing process.  

“People need to take the time to realize what they are feeling, how it is making them feel, how it is making them think, and experience it for a moment,” he said. “It often comes that people will decide to do something with those thoughts and feelings and turn it into a healthy activity. That activity is the natural way that we heal.”

Some people may not have a prolonged reaction to the aftermath. They may be the type of person who is able to process grief very quickly. Or there are people who need a longer period to come to terms with what has happened.

“Everyone is different,” Dr. Adler says. “Grief has stages and bereavement usually gets much better within six months’ time. It is typical for people to have anxiety and a flood of other emotions about an impending anniversary of a death or other traumatic event. When people experience prolonged bereavement, behavioral health professionals (professional counselors, psychologists, social workers) are available through many sources. Take time to grieve. It cannot be stuffed. It is most healthy to grieve now, grieve with others, grieve alone.”

Another way to overcome feelings of loss is to honor someone’s passing in some way. Dr. Adler says this can be a symbolic activity or a practical one.

“We have seen hundreds of dollars donated, blood donated, people organizing vigils, performing public services, talking with others, comforting others, making memorials, attending Pride activities, and being supportive all-around. Doing these things will make a person feel better and feel better sooner.”

The assailant in the Orlando shootings not only took away innocent lives, he created an atmosphere of terror, in effect taking control of millions of other lives. Dr. Adler says you can combat that force by taking back the management of your liveliness. He says that is what the victims would want.

“Each time we go out, have fun, enjoy ourselves, celebrate life, we honor Orlando's victims as well as all other victims of war and acts of terror and hate,” he said. “We continue to live as they cannot. As I heard one Orlandon say, ‘...those were beautiful people...they did not deserve that.’ I believe that is very true. If we stop living, then terror wins. What is important is for people to be indomitable and resilient. Live and remember those who are no longer here.”

As for the people who are less than sympathetic to the tragedy: politicians, faith based organizations and media personalities, Dr. Adler says we cannot allow that type of antagonism to permeate our healing process either.  

“It is discouraging to hear negativity and especially so from leaders," he said. "Negativity saps energy and strength. Staying positive, counting blessings and expressing gratitude help us to thrive and flourish. That wins. Every time. Stay strong!”

The San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center) has many resources to assist people in their time of grief. 

The Center is located at 3909 Centre Street, San Diego, CA 92103. (619) 692-2077

Dr. Andrew Adler, EDD, is the Clinical Psychologist Specialist in Nashville, Tennessee. He attended and graduated with honors from medical school in 1985, having over 31 years of diverse experiences, especially in Clinical Psychologist.