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How we might process the Orlando tragedy in our daily work

June 13, 2016
by H. Steven Moffic
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Over this past weekend, my wife and I went to a music festival in Ojai, California, just north of Los Angeles. This is where the movie “Shangri-La” was filmed, and indeed it is a place of rare natural beauty. Violence here is rare it seems.

The director of this year's festival was Peter Sellars, who is known for his dedication to human rights and human compassion. He takes on subjects of great social importance, such as atomic energy and PTSD in his work. As the festival was winding down, we were invited to an early morning music meditation at Meditation Mount.

As you might agree, meditation has proven to be beneficial to the mental health of many.

However, before we could get into the meditation mindset, the news emerged of the tragedy at the night club in Orlando. Not surprisingly, the early broadcasts speculated on whether the act was related to terrorism or mental illness. Soon, speculation about homophobia and racism emerged.

Music, somewhat akin to meditation, has also often been said to be a “healing force of the universe.” Yet, music therapy has virtually disappeared from our therapeutic resources due to cost cutting, as it has from so many school educational programs in the United States.

Consider the potential for music and meditation in our everyday work as we try to process the tragedy in Orlando for ourselves and with our patients:

  • If not already done at your site, have a brief memorial service that includes healing words, music and meditation;
  • Bring back more music therapy where you can;
  • Set up structures to help prevent violence to staff;
  • Preach and practice cultural competence and sensitivity;
  • Carefully assess and address the potential for violence in our patients and use our therapeutic alliance to treat and "disarm" them;
  • Continue to try to reduce the stigma against the mentally ill, including education that violence against the mentally ill is much more common than by them;
  • Watch for the indirect effects of this tragedy on our patients, as it might represent triggers to loss and violence;
  • If you serve Muslim patients, try to embrace their ensuing fears; and
  • Advocate for gun control, not only because of its role in mass murders, but in suicides.

The opening production at Ojai was an opera about Simone Weil, who died during World War II. With fierce altruism, she tried to be a model to remedy “all the privations of soul and body which are liable to destroy the earthly life of any human being whatsoever.” This dovetails with the psychiatric ethical principle to do what we can not only for individual patients, but for the mental health of our communities.



H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...

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