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Harry Cassin
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Reassessing Post-Pandemic Trauma: What can compliance professionals do to help?

The modern view of trauma emerged after 9/11 and crystallized in the wake of the pandemic. It is vastly more expansive than anything that came before it, and that expanded view might just be a problem in itself. The new thinking might also be robbing us of countless opportunities to help each other get on with life, just when so many of us need a nudge.

Today’s thinking reflects three basic tenets that, taken together, could be impeding recoveries. One is that trauma is far more prevalent than previously understood. Another is that trauma reactions may vary somewhat by degree but are similar and need similar treatment. A third is that only credentialed professionals such as psychologists and trained counselors can deal with trauma.

For example, a church I visited featured an eight-week series of talks about trauma. The talks were delivered mainly by licensed counselors and covered many topics common to the community.

The speakers described trauma victims as spouses experiencing marriage problems (even minor disagreements), parents dealing with rebellious kids, kids upset by things said in class, and workers in conflict with bosses. The speakers stressed the need for all of them to promptly seek professional counseling.


Diagnosing trauma and recommending treatment on the basis of group membership is efficient, but it’s very different than evaluating individuals on a case-by-case basis.

Not all mental health professionals are on board with the new approach. Clay Routledge, an existential psychologist, said in the Wall Street Journal last month that people usually recover from trauma “unless they come to view it as a central part of who they are.”

That’s why the prevalence of awareness campaigns may be impeding recoveries. Ubiquitous mental health reminders encourage people to ”turn inward and focus on their own worries,” Routledge said. Even hearing constant trigger warnings can elevate anxiety levels and cause more problems.

Instead of an inward focus, most people with trauma need more activity. “Engaging in acts of kindness has been found to improve mental health more than traditional cognitive behavioral therapeutic techniques—in part because it gets your mind off your psychological problems,” he said. Exercise can be “more effective at reducing depression, anxiety and stress than therapy or medication.”

Above all, people should avoid spending too much time online and “engage in the in-person activities that promote psychological health,” Routledge said.

British psychiatrist Anthony Malcolm Daniels (also known by his pen name, Theodore Dalrymple) expressed a similar thought. Last year, he said in the Spectator that the modern idea of lumping traumas of all intensities together obscures experiences of an “unmistakably catastrophic kind” and promotes the false notion that relatively minor traumas all “lead to consequences.”

That echoed similar warnings from two decades earlier. The New York Times ran a story in September 2003 titled “Is Trauma Being Trivialized?” The story featured several mental health experts who worried that trauma was being “dumbed down,” leading in some cases to inappropriate treatment and recovery paths.

Kaethe Weingarten, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told the reporter that post-9/11 trauma was “pervasive and common, and that family- and community-based programs can help as much as biomedical approaches.” She also said over-diagnosing by labelling all trauma “as pathological and requiring medical care” undermines “the capacity of people to console each other.”


Helping people heal from pandemic-related trauma that’s “pervasive and common” is something compliance officers can do for their organizations.

How? Arrange fewer online meetings and training sessions and more in-person activities and events. Make personal contact with people. Draw employees into active service roles within the organization. Find opportunities for colleagues to serve others in their communities or professional groups. Whatever it takes to get people’s minds off themselves.

Should compliance professionals talk about trauma? Or should everyone defer to mental health professionals?

Look, we’ve all just come through Covid-19 — all of us. And everyone feels damaged somehow. We shouldn’t focus on it obsessively. That’s unhealthy. But what’s more normal than talking about it some, and listening to others who want to vent a little?

Talking and listening among sympathetic people has a special healing power of its own. There’s a chance it will reveal more severe reactions to trauma that require medical attention in some people. If so, that’s also a good outcome.

I’ve always believed people feel called to practice ethics and compliance partly because they have a heart for the welfare of others. So isn’t it natural, particularly now, for compliance professionals to search out ways to use that “capacity to console” others?

Let’s not miss any more opportunities to help.

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