Parkland Blog

April 20, 2018
It has now been over two months since the terrible tragedy that happened at Stoneman Douglas. School and routines have resumed but people are not the same. A profound sadness is still upon the community and it will take a long time to overcome the anger and grief, if ever. But most people I have spoken to want to resume their lives.

Town hall meetings and gun violence protests occur frequently and rightly so. Hopefully changes will be made to protect and ensure the safety of our society. However, it seems that little attention has been paid to those individuals who are mentally or characterologically ill. History has shown us that these types of individuals will continue to act out against society and will find the means to do so.

We must as a society find ways to help these people and get them connected so that they are not isolated and angry. Early identification of behavioral or emotional problems can help these individuals before their anger and resentment grow into acting out behaviors against society. This is not just a suggestion; this is a necessity.

We very well may be looking at a mental health epidemic. Combine this with the availability of weapons is a recipe for disaster. Just providing money to have more counselors at schools or to failed mental health clinics is not enough. Just as we would with a medical illness, we need to have mental health tools, quality training of therapists, and research-based screening programs to identify and help those individuals at risk before they escalate.

The time has come. Mental illness needs to be recognized as an epidemic and treated and not hidden because of stigma or not being an exciting topic for the media. Guns do kill people but people pull the trigger.

April 3, 2018

I Tried to Befriend Nikolas Cruz. He Still Killed My Friends.

The following article was written by Isabelle Robinsos, an MSD senior, and published in the Opinion Section of the New York Times on March 24, 2018. An image of the shooter was deleted. It speaks to the importance of the systems of protection in schools and in the community. They need to identify and treat those individuals with mental illness before they disrupt the lives of others.

I Tried to Befriend Nikolas Cruz. He Still Killed My Friends.
By Isabelle Robinson

March 27, 2018
PARKLAND, Fla. — My first interaction with Nikolas Cruz happened when I was in seventh grade. I was eating lunch with my friends, most likely discussing One Direction or Ed Sheeran, when I felt a sudden pain in my lower back. The force of the blow knocked the wind out of my 90-pound body; tears stung my eyes. I turned around and saw him, smirking. I had never seen this boy before, but I would never forget his face. His eyes were lit up with a sick, twisted joy as he watched me cry.

The apple that he had thrown at my back rolled slowly along the tiled floor. A cafeteria aide rushed over to ask me if I was O.K. I don’t remember if Mr. Cruz was confronted over his actions, but in my 12-year-old naïveté, I trusted that the adults around me would take care of the situation.

Five years later, hiding in a dark closet inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I would discover just how wrong I was.

I am not writing this piece to malign Nikolas Cruz any more than he already has been. I have faith that history will condemn him for his crimes. I am writing this because of the disturbing number of comments I’ve read that go something like this: Maybe if Mr. Cruz’s classmates and peers had been a little nicer to him, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas would never have occurred.

This deeply dangerous sentiment, expressed under the #WalkUpNotOut hashtag, implies that acts of school violence can be prevented if students befriend disturbed and potentially dangerous classmates. The idea that we are to blame, even implicitly, for the murders of our friends and teachers is a slap in the face to all Stoneman Douglas victims and survivors.

A year after I was assaulted by Mr. Cruz, I was assigned to tutor him through my school’s peer counseling program. Being a peer counselor was the first real responsibility I had ever had, my first glimpse of adulthood, and I took it very seriously.

Despite my discomfort, I sat down with him, alone. I was forced to endure his cursing me out and ogling my chest until the hourlong session ended. When I was done, I felt a surge of pride for having organized his binder and helped him with his homework.

Looking back, I am horrified. I now understand that I was left, unassisted, with a student who had a known history of rage and brutality.

Like many pre-teenage and teenage girls, I possessed — and still, to an extent, possess — a strong desire to please. I strive to win the praise of the adults in my life and long to be seen as mature beyond my years. I would have done almost anything to win the approval of my teachers.

This is not to say that children should reject their more socially awkward or isolated peers — not at all. As a former peer counselor and current teacher’s assistant, I strongly believe in and have seen the benefits of reaching out to those who need kindness most.

But students should not be expected to cure the ills of our genuinely troubled classmates, or even our friends, because we first and foremost go to school to learn. The implication that Mr. Cruz’s mental health problems could have been solved if only he had been loved more by his fellow students is both a gross misunderstanding of how these diseases work and a dangerous suggestion that puts children on the front line.

It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable or violent tendencies. It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that cannot be provided at the same institution.

No amount of kindness or compassion alone would have changed the person that Nikolas Cruz is and was, or the horrendous actions he perpetrated. That is a weak excuse for the failures of our school system, our government and our gun laws.

My little sister is now the age that I was when I was left alone with Mr. Cruz, anxious and defenseless. The thought of her being put in the same situation that I was fills me with rage. I hope that she will never know the fear that I have become so accustomed to in the past month: The slightest unexpected sound makes my throat constrict and my neck hairs curl. I beg her to trust her gut whenever she feels unsafe. And I demand that the adults in her life protect her.

A version of this article appears in print on March 28, 2018, on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: I Tried to Befriend Nikolas Cruz.

Pictures from March For Our Lives March 24, 2018

March 24, 2018

Speech presented at Temple Beth Am in Margate Florida
by Dr. Joel Kimmel

I have been practicing as a psychologist in Coral Springs for forty years. have worked in drug rehabs and child protection teams. I have been to the death camps in Poland twelve times. I have been trained in crisis intervention and have treated people who have been victims of bank robberies and family members of suicides. But, besides my own personal loss, I have never experienced anything so disruptive as this shooting.

Because this disaster is personal to all who live here, grew up here, work here, or know others here. 100% of my patients discuss what happened. That is, every patient I have needs to talk about it.

Traumas such as the Douglas shooting are extremely high intensity events that occur infrequently.But they do occur and when they do, they overcome our normal ability to cope and our usual defense mechanisms.

We feel powerless. We feel scared. And we feel angry. We try to make sense out of something that makes no sense and we are left numb and in disbelief.

Our community has been changed forever. The cruelty of our world has crashed down on this community, our community, leaving huge gaping scars.

Everyone here has been affected. This is a very tight community where everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone affected by this tragedy. We are all familiar with the schools, the restaurants, the streets, the sport leagues, the parks, and the houses of worship. Parkland and Coral Springs were safe and great places to grow up. We had a terrific quality of life.

But now, seventeen funerals later, these kids are left with horrible memories of what they saw and experienced.I have patients who have difficulty sleeping and fear for their safety even with all the extra police and security.

Two of my patients were in the classrooms that were shot into. One’s friend died next to her. Another boy was heroic, pulling a girl who was shot in the leg into his classroom. He then organized the other students to hide the best they could in the classroom as the teacher was paralyzed with fear. Once the SWAT team arrived and they had to leave, they walked out over seven bodies.

We also see the parents of some of these children. They lived every parent’s nightmare. But they were the fortunate ones as their kids came home from school that day. They tell me that they never experienced such terror and powerlessness as they did that day. And their reaction was normal for a terribly abnormal situation.

One mother told me that she lives across the street from the school and watched as the police rushed to the school and the paramedics brought bodies out. She said that she has images in her head, like the children, that she believes will never go away. She is upset by the helicopters that still hover overhead and by the constant media attention. She doesn’t sleep well and constantly checks on her daughter. She broke down in my office Thursday, one month later, with uncontrollable crying.

We have also seen some first responders in our office. These strong and experienced people are shocked by what they saw. They break down and cry when they tell us what they saw when they went in to the school. Bodies of children ripped apart by military grade bullets designed to kill or disable a person.These brave and courageous people who have been trained for trauma work have also been traumatized.

Emotionally, common reactions to such intense events include PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, phobic reactions, and depression. The closer the person was to the event, the greater the emotional impact and the possibility of having survivor guilt.

Re-experiencing the event, having nightmares and flashbacks, feeling scared, isolating, being hypervigilant, and avoiding anything that reminds them of the trauma are common and normal reactions.

So how does one ever feel normal after such an experience?

In therapy, my patients are making slow progress. They cry when they tell me what they saw and sometimes, so do I. Returning to school while difficult for them was a good thing. But in some cases, this trauma has exacerbated previous emotional and family conflicts.

They need to be supported, loved, and understood.

Our focus in therapy is to go from posttraumatic stress to posttraumatic strength, to change their thinking from the horror of what they experienced to making them stronger as people.

This is not an easy process.

Relaxation exercises help them to keep calm and extinguish the startle response they have when they hear a loud noise. The nightmares are decreasing while we work to establish a sense of personal safety.

Their anger needs to be expressed appropriately. New routines need to be established to decrease anxiety and to give some certainty to their lives in emotional upheaval.With time and support, a new normal will develop.

What can you do individually?

We can try to bring some love and happiness into our troubled society.

We can be more caring to others.

We can reach out and make new friends and acquaintances.

Let’s smile more to strangers.

Let’s say hello and show interest in others.

Let’s say thank you and please and hold the door for others.

Let’s be friendlier and try to establish connectedness with others.

Let’s try to be more understanding of others rather than quick to blame.

Let’s keep our egos in check.

Let’s not think that we are better than others.

Let’s replace the hate in our society with empathy and understanding for others.

I am reminded of what Gene Greenzweig said when we were with teenagers in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. He told them that we did not bring them there to hate but to teach them what hate can do.

Despite what we see in the media and in politics, let’s be more respectful and courteous to ourselves and others. We are not politicians.

This will require huge effort and a change in habits but the rewards will be worth it. Otherwise we are doomed to live with hate and bigotry.

Nobody here has escaped this tragedy and together, we can become better people and a stronger community.

This trauma comes in waves and will last for a long time. Because this is ongoing, we are starting two support groups in our office…one is for teachers and school personnel and the other is for kids, their families and their friends. These groups are free and offered as a community service. More information can be found on our KimmelPsychology facebook page.

As a therapist, I feel privileged to do what I can do to help these kids and their families overcome this tragedy. While at times, it is painful, the fact that I can help is very personally rewarding.

March 23, 2018

Free Professional Help is available if you have been affected by the Stoneman Douglas tragedy

Anxiety, Depression, Fear, and Stress are only a few of the feelings that our community has been dealing with since Valentine’s Day. This trauma has overwhelmed the ability to cope and often come in waves.

If you are feeling this way, you are certainly not alone.

KimmelPsychology has been a part of the Coral Springs and Parkland Communities for over forty years. We live here and work here. Since this tragedy happened, we have seen an increase in the number of kids and adults who have been feeling “down”. We expect over the next few months, to see even more people with similar pain.

We are announcing that as a community service, we are starting a free group for adolescents, 12 through 18, and another free group for adults, 18+, to discuss these feelings and address how they affect one’s functioning.

By intervening early, we can deal with these feelings before they become more intense and disruptive.

Please call Jillian at 954-758-2885 to find out more information and the date for our informational meeting.

March 22, 2018

Support Group For Stoneman Douglas Faculty and Staff

Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Stress are just a few of the feelings that we have when confronted by the tragic events that took place on Valentine’s Day.

If you are feeling this way, you certainly are not alone.

If you thought you should be better by now, know that trauma can come in waves.

If you can’t sleep, eat, or feel numb, a support group can help you.

KimmelPsychology has been a part of the Coral Springs and Parkland Communities for over forty years. We are treating a number of kids and adults who have been angry, depressed, and numb since this tragedy happened.

We expect that over the next few months, we will see even more people with similar pain. These associated feelings affect our families, marriages, work, and many other areas of living.

In response, we are offering a support group specifically for faculty and staff to discuss your feelings and reactions to the shooting. By addressing it now, we hope to assist you in your recovery.

This group is offered at no charge as a community service so that we can contribute in our way to our community’s healing.

Please call Jillian at 954-758-2885 to find out more information and the date for our informational meeting.

March 1, 2018

Looking through a therapist’s eyes

These past two weeks have been challenging to say the least. Being only a mile away from MSD, we have seen many children and families who have been directly or indirectly involved. They have not only had to put up with their traumatic experience, but they have also had to deal with the media, the politicians, and those who try to profit by media exposure. They come to see us to download their experiences, to get support, and to try to get some understanding of what they have gone through and how they will recover.

The children no, the students (because they are not really children anymore), have told us that are relieved to have gone back to school. While it is a strange feeling for them, it does give them a sense of stability. They see their friends and their teachers who have all gone through what we cannot understand. They belong to a kind of club that none of them wanted to join. Yet they all to different degrees have experienced intense fear, uncertainty, powerlessness, grief, and anger. They have seen things that none of them should ever have seen. They cry and they need hugs. They talk and at times don’t want to talk. Some feel guilty that they survived and others are still in disbelief. We see a wide range of feelings and reactions because trauma is so personal. We applaud their turning their angry feelings into activism.

We see the parents who many are still in shock. They all know each other or of each other. They were unable to protect their children and recognized quickly how easily they could have lost them. They know the families who did lose children and don’t know what to say to them except that they care and are there for them. Some are proud of the heroism of their sons and daughters who helped others and pulled them out of the way. Many have told us how they now feel closer to their children and are committed to having closer relationships with all family members.

We have seen first responders cry in our office. They have told us that they have never experienced anything like this before in their careers. They are proud that they did what they could. But then it hits them that they had to carry out bloody students, some of them who they knew. Healing will take a very long time.

As therapists, we feel privileged to do what we can do to help these kids and their families overcome this tragedy. Besides being professionals, this is personal to us. This is our community. These were our kids and families. And because of that, it is a little more painful yet rewarding that we can help.