Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27th Tornado - One Year Later

Editor’s note: Even one year after the storms that hit on April 27, 2011, subsequent storms and storm anniversaries can trigger anxiety, fear and some of the same feelings felt on that day. If you, your children or someone you know is experiencing this, please see our Ask Anne article “Responding to Kids/Teens After a Disasteror this Critical Incident Stress Information Sheet*  for some practical tips. And, as always, please contact us if you feel you would benefit from professional counseling at 1-866-991-6864, or

One Year After Tornadoes, Children’s Homes, Pathways Still Helping

By Erin Tunnell, ABCH Communications Manager

They entered the sanctuary of Flint Hill Baptist Church, Bessemer, slowly, somberly, anxious to find help. Casts, wheelchairs, crutches and bandages bore silent witness to the physical injuries these tornado survivors sustained, but the atmosphere was heavy with the unspoken testimony of emotional and psychological wounds.

In the first of several critical incident debriefings led by our Pathways Professional Counselors with survivors of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes, the storm survivors sought healing as they talked through their experiences — sharing their hurt, anger, and fears.

“It was surreal,” said Lisa Keane, Clinical Director of Pathways. “We were talking with people who had lost loved ones; families whose houses had been torn from the foundation as they were inside, like something you see in the movies.

I was so burdened for the hurt these people were experiencing and the knowledge that psychological healing was going to be a long process for these families and individuals.”

In the days and weeks following the outbreak of deadly tornadoes that will forever define that April day, the counselors of Pathways Professional Counseling and employees of its parent ministry, Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH), sought ways to reach out to the hurting of the state.

Even as we grieved the loss of life and the destruction, we moved into action, with the ministry granting time off for staff to assist in clean up and ministry to the storm victims. As one employee was working in Tuscaloosa, he noticed a need for baby items. Our five regional offices in Decatur, Dothan, Birmingham, Mobile and Oxford coordinated with Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief to serve as collection points for diapers, baby bottles and formula. We then distributed those items among churches who were working on the front lines of the response. We also collected disaster relief funds to distribute among families in need.

One of our former residents and her children were injured and lost their home due to the EF-4 tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa. We were blessed to walk alongside her during her child’s subsequent hospitalization and to be family for her during the dark days following the storm. We were honored to be able to minister and play a small role in her family’s recovery.
“At the Children’s Homes, we are privileged to serve the children and families of Alabama,” said Rod Marshall, ABCH President/CEO. “When crisis occurs, we look for and welcome opportunities to partner with Alabama Baptists and others to protect, nurture and restore children and families through Christ-centered services.”

In addition to leading the session at Flint Hill Baptist, Our Pathways Professional Counselors led sessions in Hackleburg, Tuscaloosa and Cullman. We provided counseling to those affected by the storms at no charge.

And one year later, the work still continues, as we still counsel some who were affected by those and subsequent storms such as the tornadoes that again hit the state in January of this year. After that outbreak, our counselors worked in the Centerpoint and Clay/Chalkville areas of the state, and employees again reached out to help in various ways.

While helping us see the progress made, anniversaries such as this can also remind us how much is left to be done, especially in the process of healing psychologically. Survivors can experience “anniversary reactions” where news coverage or other anniversary-related events and sights can trigger the same feelings and physical symptoms of stress reaction as the actual event, said Ross Hickman, Program Director of Pathways. Many times, those who did not have any such reactions after the initial event will have a “delayed response” weeks, months or years later as a sight, sound or smell triggers memories of the tornadoes.

“This is definitely normal and typical,” Hickman said. “You are not going crazy if you’re experiencing these reactions for the first time.” He advises that those experiencing the mental and physical symptoms of a stress reaction to begin working through it by sharing their story with a trusted friend. 

And if you or someone you know has been dealing with these feelings for the past year, or continue to experience them after 4-6 weeks, Hickman advises seeking professional help. “You have to begin working through it before healing can happen,” he said. “Ignoring the problem won’t help.”
If you or someone you know would like to talk with a Pathways Professional Counselor, please contact us at 1-866-991-6864, or

*Reprinted by permission from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Q: My daughter keeps talking about friends at school that are “cutting” themselves. She and I wonder why someone would do that.

A: Cutting happens often among adolescents, especially females. A common misconception is that when a teen cuts herself she must be attempting to take her life. Most often, cutting is a way to cope with an emotional difficulty instead of a suicide attempt. However, if anyone speaks of wanting to harm oneself or end his or her life, this should be handled seriously. A professional counselor or doctor should be contacted immediately.

While females are more likely to cut than males, males engage in other self-injurious behavior.  They may burn themselves in small patches or poke themselves with sharp objects.  No matter what the self-injurious behavior is, it is still a cry for help.  These teenagers are experiencing pain that they do not know how to handle.  Therefore, they are engaging in negative coping strategies to make it through.  

Adolescents who cut or engage in other self-harming behavior have discovered they would rather feel the physical pain on their bodies instead of continuing to feel the emotional pain in their lives. Therefore, the cutting begins to be comforting in its own way. Research shows that cutting is habit-forming, so if a teen continues cutting, his or her parents need to seek therapy or individual counseling for them. As a parent, encourage your daughter to communicate with you about whether friends experience as well as the challenges she faces. Remind your teen she can always come to you with anything that is of concern.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
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