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Psychologist: What to Expect on 9/11 Anniversary

Dass-Brailsford Portrait

Priscilla Dass-Brailsford, a Georgetown University Medical Center psychologist, says people will experience a variety of reactions to the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

September 7, 2011 – People tend to re-experience tragic events such as 9/11 on significant anniversaries or avoid commemoration of the event at all costs, says Georgetown University Medical Center psychologist Priscilla Dass-Brailsford.

“For some people, the anniversary of 9/11 will make them feel like they’re going through the trauma all over again,” explains Dass-Brailsford, an expert in disaster-related trauma and a first responder in New York City after the 9/11 attacks. “That kind of reaction is called ‘re-experiencing.’ People may have feelings, bodily responses, and thoughts that occurred at the time of the event. They will look at the clock and think back on what they were doing 10 years ago this time … it will be a hard day.”

Staying Away Unhealthy

Avoidance is another type of reaction people experience during the anniversary of a harrowing event.
She doesn’t advise that people totally refrain from encountering events, places and people that remind them of the traumatic day.

Dass-Brailsford says individuals who choose avoidance concern her the most as we near the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“Plan to do something symbolic that feels emotionally comfortable,” she suggests.

Bin Laden’s Death

For those who lost loved ones, this anniversary may be different since the perpetrator behind the attacks, Osama Bin Laden, has been killed.

“For some survivors of the disaster, Bin Laden’s death is a relief but probably not enough,” Dass-Brailsford says.
She says it is crucial for survivors to acknowledge the anniversary day.

Awareness Important

“Just being aware that the day will bring back intense feelings of pain, loss and sadness is important,” she says. “Some type of personal or family memorialization can be helpful, whether it’s going out for a meal together to celebrate a loved one’s life, spending time with friends, or attending a church service or other memorial service in their city.”

Editor of Crisis and Disaster Counseling: Lessons Learned From Hurricane Katrina and Other Disasters (SAGE publications, 2009), Dass-Brailsford was a first responder in the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

She is also an active member of the divisions of Trauma Psychology, Counseling Psychology and Ethnic Minority Psychology at the American Psychological Association.


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