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About Us | Newtown Memorial Fund
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, MS, LPC, NCC, CMHS Licensed Professional Counselor
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a nationally certified and licensed professional Counselor and is certified as a Clinical Mental Health Specialist in Trauma Counseling.
holds advanced certifications in several Trauma-Informed Therapies and her
clinical practice focuses on Acute and Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic Pain and Illness.
A lifelong resident of Hamden, Deb
has volunteered extensively to support the healing process of the Sandy Hook Community.
In addition to her clinical work, Deb serves as the Connecticut Counseling Association's Executive Director and is a frequent guest-lecturer at local Universities and Mental Health Counseling Conferences on Trauma-Informed Diagnosis and Therapy.
Deborah DelVecchio-Scully This e-mail address is being protected from spambots.
Connecticut Counseling Association
Trauma and Disaster Archives - Counseling Today
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is the clinical recovery leader of the Newtown Recovery and Resiliency Team, formed out of a $7.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to bolster the Connecticut town's mental health recovery and community resiliency in the wake of the shooting.
According to Del Vecchio-Scully, this is the first time that a DOJ grant has been awarded specifically to provide mental health services following school-based violence.
When the grant was being written, Del Vecchio-Scully
says, it was nearly impossible to gauge what Newtown's needs would be in the months and years ahead.
"There's no road map," she
says, adding that the tragedy was unique because of the age of the children who were murdered and the impact the event had worldwide.
"What I've really come to understand about trauma is that in the aftermath of tragedy, regardless of how it happened - if it's natural tragedy, if it's violence - the reactions are extraordinarily complicated," says Del Vecchio-Scully, a member of the American Counseling Association and the executive director of the Connecticut Counseling Association, a branch of ACA.
Counselors should think about that concept in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Del Vecchio-Scully
also witnessed this after the school shootings in Newtown.
"Communities can be overwhelmed by well-meaning helpers in the aftermath of a mass violence event, just as they are after a natural disaster," she
Counselors who are interested in assisting after a tragedy should start by seeking training beforehand to become an American Red Cross disaster mental health volunteer, Del Vecchio-Scully
Among other places, the training is offered each year at the ACA Conference & Expo.
Although resiliency will look different for everyone in the aftermath of an event of mass violence, Del Vecchio-Scully
says that counselors can foster resilience among clients by engaging in ego-strengthening exercises - namely, recognizing and honoring when they take a step forward in some way.
Remind clients that simply getting up in the morning and completing a task such as attending a counseling appointment or going to work is evidence of resilience, she
Del Vecchio-Scully cautions, however, that when the immediate aftermath of an event of mass violence has passed, it will not be a "neat transition" from the psychological first aid stage to what survivors will need next.
Counselors should be on the lookout for people who are struggling and might need mental health treatment, she
Trauma affects people on a number of different levels in a tragedy such as a mass shooting.
The base level is personal trauma, or what the individual's own experience in the tragedy was, Del Vecchio-Scully
There is also vicarious trauma, which usually affects helpers who are repeatedly exposed to the traumatic stories of others, she
Secondary trauma is experienced only where primary trauma has occurred and results from being exposed to others who have been traumatized by the same event, she
Shared trauma affects people at the community level - for example, a teacher who works at a different school in Newtown, she
Complicated reactions to events of mass violence and other disasters, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complicated PTSD and traumatic grief, are sometimes missed or misdiagnosed, Del Vecchio-Scully
Counselors working with people in the aftermath of disaster or violent tragedy need to understand that trauma is a neurobiological injury to the brain, she
A traumatic event such as a mass shooting can affect the brain in such a way that fearful memories get stored and the fight-or-flight response gets frozen.
A cascade of neurochemicals then leads to triggering, emotional flooding, avoidance and hypervigilant reactions, she
"The long-term impact of trauma on children is particularly concerning within the Sandy Hook community [because] the brains of those directly impacted are in their most formative stages, ages 5 to 18," Del Vecchio-Scully
"The dysregulation of the brain due to trauma may impact brain size, brain hemisphere integration - which is important for emotional regulation - and an ability to determine cause and effect. [There is also] the impact on academic learning and performance."
suggests that counselors work from a trauma-informed model, which "requires advanced training in the neuroscience of trauma and trauma-informed treatments that focus on whole-brain treatment.
says the treatments include eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, brainspotting, the emotional freedom technique, trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy, somatic experiencing and trauma-informed art therapy.
"Counselors must have a basic understanding of the brain's reaction to trauma, avoid assessment/treatment that requires a client to 'retell their story,' utilize calming and soothing techniques to regulate the brain and then initiate a trauma-informed treatment approach," Del Vecchio-Scully
Caring for the caregivers
Most recently in Newtown, Del Vecchio-Scully
has been working to provide support for the mental health clinicians in the community.
says that two and a half years after the shootings, community members affected by the tragedy are still coming to see these clinicians for the first time, which means the impact hasn't really lessened for these mental health professionals.
On top of that, the community's mental health clinicians are likely navigating multiple layers of exposure to the tragedy.
For example, a counselor might be hearing clients' stories of trauma while simultaneously feeling personally connected to the trauma because their children go to school in Newtown.
team has been working to create peer support groups for the mental health clinicians working in the community.
The helping professionals, who are from in and around the Newtown area, have a deep commitment to helping their community, Del Vecchio-Scully
But clinicians in these kinds of situations can struggle to identify when they become impaired.
"If you enter into this work with an open heart, it isn't a matter of if you'll be impacted by the work but when this will occur," she
"Self-care when responding following a mass violence or natural disaster tragedy requires the basics of adequate rest; food and drink; time off and away from the situation; good, solid support from others; [and] methods of decompressing from what has been witnessed, including supervision, which for licensed people often lapses."
role in Newtown, Del Vecchio-Scully
participates in two peer supervision groups.
It is an experience that she
"Our team has worked with nearly 400 Newtown residents since its inception in July 2014," she
Regardless of who the perpetrators of mass violence are or where these traumatic events take place, counselors need to be ready to respond, Del Vecchio-Scully
"Following mass trauma, the community looks to counselors for support," she
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully at email@example.com
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, the ...
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, the executive director of the Connecticut Counseling Association and trauma expert, says the ages of the victims and the fact that the shooting took place at a school make the tragedy resonate with people in every corner of the country.
"School is supposed to be a safe place," says Del Vecchio-Scully, a member of the American Counseling Association.
"Not just [Sandy Hook Elementary] is going to be affected but also other schools in the area.
There are going to be long-reaching effects on parents and children that we are going to see in the days, weeks, months and years to come."
And as the community of Newtown grieves, Del Vecchio-Scully
says the initial question is how the tragedy should be discussed with children.
"You want parents to be the source of information," she
"The younger child's brain is not developed to understand the permanence of death, and that's going to add a difficult layer to it," Del Vecchio-Scully
"[Children] are the ones who are going to ask 'What happened?
Why can't I go back to school?'"
In addition, Del Vecchio-Scully
says, it's often hard for children to find the right words to describe how they feeling about what they've experienced.
Del Vecchio-Scully recommends giving children a creative outlet as a way to express their feelings.
"Kids act out their worries and concerns through play and their artwork," she
Because the event is still recent, Del Vecchio-Scully
says most reactions a child may exhibit for the next week or two can still be considered normal.
This may include regressive behaviors such as wanting to sleep in bed with parents, bed-wetting or acting out.
"Normalizing and fostering a sense of safety and routine is important right now, and that's going to start at home
It is also important for parents to foster open communication and to be open and honest about their feelings as well.
"Kids are very sensitive," Del Vecchio-Scully
says, " and they're going to get their cues from their parents."
Similar to parents, teachers should also focus on maintaining a daily routine and should aim to answer questions from students to the best of their ability.
says the impact of the trauma and the mental health needs of communities are layered like concentric circles.
"The inner circle includes the children, school staff and first responders who witnessed the event and/or the crime scene, as well as the officials who informed the families of the death of their loved ones," she
"Next are the parents of the surviving children and those whose children were killed.
On the more outer rim of the circle is the rest of the greater Newtown community and the entire Connecticut community."
The fourth layer includes the general public watching the tragedy unfold in the news media and through social media who are vicariously impacted, Del Vecchio-Scully
Crisis intervention is already occurring in Newtown, and for most counselors, Del Vecchio-Scully
says, "our services will be needed once the crisis period passes and a void in caring for the community is evident."
Although Del Vecchio-Scully
says that now may not be the time for therapy, counselors, too, can take on the role of listener for those impacted by the shooting if the situation calls for it.
But in the months to follow, Del Vecchio-Scully
says, "the crisis intervention teams will withdraw, creating a void of support, which will result in a shift of responsibility of the ongoing mental health needs of the community to local agencies and volunteer counselors."
Counselors should be on the lookout for individuals who are at risk of re-traumatization.
"Newtown was one of the towns that was hit by Hurricane Sandy," Del Vecchio-Scully
"They went without power for a week.
As traumatic events get layered, the ability to cope gets less."
This is also the time for counselors to focus on individuals in the outer concentric circles - those who may not have been directly impacted by the events in Newtown but are having trouble coping.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary will have an especially far-reaching impact because a school setting is something that all children share and experience, Del Vecchio-Scully
says the events mirror the attacks on 9/11.
"The world watched in real-time, and individuals will be impacted in some way that we can't really know right now," she
stresses the importance of the role of counselors in helping children and communities cope and move forward in the months following a tragedy such as this.
"Kids are extraordinarily resilient," she
says, "and we have to give them the chance to be."
Counseling Today | Counseling Today
The need for counseling and mental health services for those affected will only grow in year two, says Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, a trauma counseling specialist and executive director of the Connecticut Counseling Association,...continue reading