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Healing and Recovery

Care for Injuries

Go to a hospital or physician to have physical injuries treated.

It will also be important to tell medical personnel that your injuries are the result of a crime before you are treated so that DNA can be collected and photographs can be taken of your injuries. Do not shower or wash because doing so may remove or compromise physical evidence needed to apprehend and convict the person(s) who hurt you.

Common Reactions Following a Traumatic Event

Emergency service providers as well as citizens can experience the following symptoms following a crisis event. In a crisis situation, one may experience emotional detachment in order to cope and function. The following reactions may occur hours, days, weeks, or months after an event.


  • Stomach problems/indigestion

  • Headaches

  • Chest pain

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Elevated blood pressure

  • Hyper alertness/easily startled


  • Irritability/anger

  • Preoccupation with the event and one’s role in it

  • Depression

  • Guilt

  • Anxiety

  • Emotional numbness


  • Impulsive

  • Excessive risk taking

  • Silent/withdrawn

  • Sleep disturbance/nightmares

  • Change in personal or work habits


  • Poor concentration

  • Difficulty in decision

  • Memory problems

  • Difficulty with details

Effective Ways of Coping Following a Traumatic Event

  • Accept all of the feelings you are having as normal reactions to an extraordinary event. You are not “crazy.” You are reacting normally to a “crazy” event. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to recover emotionally from a traumatic event.

  • Accept the fact that you have been a victim and accept the feelings that result. Remember, others may not validate your feelings. In fact, they may minimize your experience “You were only a witness,” or “You were really lucky,” or “It’s been two weeks, why are you still bothered?”

  • Don’t revert to alcohol, drugs, or overeating to cope. They will only make matters worse.

  • Maintain normalcy. Go about your daily routines and take care of business.

  • Attempt to understand what happened by getting the facts.

  • Ventilate: Talk about the event and write about it.

Combat any guilt you might have by:

  • Accepting it as normal.

  • Talking to others about your role and their role during the event. You are probably not alone in your reaction to this event.

  • Realizing you were a victim yourself and not a trained rescuer.

  • Recognizing what you “did right.”

  • Recognizing the extenuating circumstances related to the event, including the suddenness, the danger, etc.

Help Each Other

  • Reach out to support those who are particularly traumatized.

  • Respect each other’s way of coping. Don’t victimize them by judging their individual coping style. Let the “grievers” grieve and allow the “doers” to do.

Find Support

Surviving a violent crime is difficult, and while the crime may only have taken seconds or minutes, the healing process can take quite a while. The road traveled in the aftermath is slightly different for everyone, but we all need help and understanding along the way. It will be important for you to find support during your healing process. Talk with friends, family, a therapist, a support group, or other survivors in the Connect with Others section of the Witness Justice site. If you need immediate help, you may want to call a hotline for anonymous support.

Some hotlines include:

  • Rainn National Sexual Assault Free Confidential hotline

    • (800) 656-HOPE

  • Victims of Crime Resource Center

  • National Center for Victims of Crime

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • National Hopeline Network

  • Love is Respect (National Dating Abuse Calling Line)

  • Rape Abuse & Incest National Network 

    • (800) 646-HOPE (4673)

Helping the Emotionally Injured After Tragedy Strikes

Reach Out Physically

  • Position yourself at the victim’s side and at his or her level

  • Touch – unless the victim pulls away

  • Use a soft voice

  • Use the victim’s name

Reach Out Emotionally

  • Ask the victim how he or she is feeling

  • Acknowledge the victim’s experience

  • Don’t minimize the victim’s experience (i.e. “You’ll be OK”)

Don’t Overlook the Quiet Victims

Victims may appear stunned or unaffected after a tragic event. Consider indirect victims and how they may be affected by a tragic event – witnesses, rescuers, children…

  • Don’t overlook these “invisible victims”.

  • When you suspect someone is affected by a tragic event, reach out with caring and curiosity – “How are you?”

Protect the Victim from Making Impulsive Decisions

Most major decisions can wait until the victim is thinking clearly.

  • Protect the victim from being victimized by others who may not have the best interest of the victim in mind.

  • Provide for the victim’s physical needs – food, medicine, and a safe place.


Many victims have an urgent need for information after a tragic event – “What happened?”; “Why?” Assist the victim in getting the information he needs. The victim may need an Information Advocate.

  • Victims often blame themselves for the crisis event. Help a victim gain perspective by asking him to tell you the “whole story.”

  • Try to gently point out to the victim what he or she did right before, during, or after the tragic event.


Victims are often paralyzed after a tragic event and often lose their capacity to deal with all of the new demands created by the tragedy. Assist the victim in developing a simple plan. Suggest – “Let’s focus on what needs to be done now.”


The actions which the victim is taking or wants to take to emotionally survive the tragic event. The victim will struggle to find something or someone to hold onto in the first few hours. You may need to “clear the way” so that what the victim wants to do he or she is able to do.


In the first few hours after a tragic event, the victim is often surrounded by people who have “a job to do,” or who have opinions about what the victim should or shouldn’t do. The primary goal of the person providing Emotional First Aid is to enable the victim to act according to his or her wishes, values, and beliefs and not according to what others think should be done.

  • Do not “overcare” or do too much for the victim. Remember that the primary psychological challenge for the victim is to be empowered to make decisions and take action on his or her own behalf.

  • Finally, a broken heart cannot “be fixed.” Don’t try! A caring presence is what you can offer someone who is emotionally devastated. Just being there is very powerful and will be experienced by the victim as very helpful.


  • “What happened?”

  • “I’m so sorry.”

  • “This must be very difficult for you.”

  • “It’s OK to feel...”


  • “I know how you feel.”

  • “Calm down.”

  • “Don’t cry.”

  • “It could be worse.”

Is There Anything I Can Do to Help?

Yes, there is much that you can do to help. The following suggests the kinds of attitudes, words, and acts, which are truly helpful. The importance of such help can hardly be overstated. Bereavement can be a life-threatening condition, and your support may make a vital difference in the mourner’s eventual recovery. Perhaps you do not feel qualified to help. You may feel uncomfortable and awkward. Such feelings are normal – don’t let them keep you away. If you really care for your sorrowing friend or relative and you can enter a little into his or her grief, you are qualified to help. In fact, the simple communication of the feeling of caring is probably the most important and helpful thing anyone can do. The following suggestions will guide you in communicating that care.

  • Get in touch. Telephone. Speak either to the mourner or to someone close and ask when you can visit and how you might help. Even if much time has passed, it’s never too late to express your concern.

  • Say little on an early visit. In the initial period (before burial), your brief embrace, your press of the hand, your few words of affection and feeling may be all that is needed.

  • Avoid clichés and easy answers. “He is out of pain” and “Aren’t you lucky that…,” are not likely to help. A simple “I’m sorry” is better.

  • Be yourself. Show your natural concern and sorrow in your own way and in your own words.

  • Keep in touch. Be available. Be there. If you are a close friend or relative, your presence might be needed from the beginning. Later, when close family may be less available, anyone’s visit and phone call can be very helpful.

  • Attend to practical matters. Find out if you are needed to answer the phone, usher in callers, prepare meals, clean the house, care for the children, etc. This kind of help lifts burdens and creates a bond. It might be needed well beyond the initial period, especially for the widowed.

  • Encourage others to visit or help. Usually one visit will overcome a friend’s discomfort and allow him or her to contribute further support. You might even be able to schedule some visitors, so that everyone does not come at once in the beginning or fails to come at all later on.

  • Accept silence. If the mourner doesn’t feel like talking, don’t force conversation. Silence is better than aimless chatter. The mourner should be allowed to lead.

  • Be a good listener. When suffering spills over into words, you can do the one thing the bereaved needs above all else at that time – you can listen. Is he or she emotional? Accept that. Does he or she cry? Accept that too. Is he or she angry at God? God will manage without your defending him. Accept whatever feelings are expressed. Do not rebuke. Do not change the subject. Be as understanding as you can be.

  • Do not attempt to tell the bereaved how he or she feels. You can ask (without probing), but you cannot know, except as you are told. Everyone, bereaved or not, resents an attempt to describe his or her feelings. To say, for example, “You must feel relieved now that he is out of pain,” is presumptuous. Even to say, “I know just how you feel,” is questionable. Learn from the mourner, do not instruct.

  • Do not probe for details about the death. If the survivor offers information, listen with understanding.

  • Comfort children in the family. Do not assume that a seemingly calm child is not sorrowing. If you can, be a friend to whom feelings can be confided and with whom tears can be shed. In most cases, incidentally, children should be left in the home and not shielded from the grieving of others.

  • Avoid talking to others about trivia in the presence of the recently bereaved. Prolonged discussion of sports, weather, or stock market, for example, is resented, even if done purposely to distract the mourner.

  • Allow the “working through” of grief. Do not whisk away clothing or hide pictures. Do not criticize seemingly morbid behavior. Young people may repeatedly visit the site of the fatal accident. A widow may sleep with her husband’s pajamas as a pillow. A young child may wear his or her dead sibling’s clothing.

  • Write a letter. A sympathy card is a poor substitute for your own expression. If you take time to write of your love for and memories of the one who died, your letter might be read many times and cherished, possibly into the next generation.

  • Encourage the postponement of major decisions. Whatever can wait should wait until after the period of intense grief.

  • In time, gently draw the mourner into a quiet outside activity. He or she may lose the initiative to go out on his own.

  • When the mourner returns to social activity, treat him or her as a normal person. Avoid pity – it destroys self-respect. Simple understanding is enough. Acknowledge the loss and the change in the mourner’s life, but don’t dwell on it.

  • Be aware of needed progress through grief. If the mourner seems unable to resolve anger or guide, for example, you might suggest a consultation with a clergyman or other trained counselor.

  • A final thought: Helping must be more than following a few rules. Especially if the bereavement is devastating and you are close to the bereaved, you may have to give more time, more care, more of yourself than you imagined. And you will have to perceive the special needs of your friend and creatively attempt to meet those needs. Such commitment and effort may even save a life. At the least, you will know the satisfaction of being truly and deeply helpful.


Amy Hillyard Jensen

Copyright Medic Publishing Co.

P.O. Box 943, Issaquah, WA 98027-0035

Protect Yourself from Further Harm

If your home was burglarized or if you had your wallet or purse stolen, you may feel the need to have your home checked before returning to it. Ask the police to check your home for you and to make sure you arrive there safely. You may want or need to have someone with you when you arrive home for a while, especially if your perpetrator isn’t caught immediately. It will be important for you to re-establish a sense of safety in your life again, which may not come easily at first. Some survivors of violent crime feel the need for security devices or weapons. Generally, the best protection you have is to be aware of your surroundings and what your “gut” is telling you. It is important to know what you feel comfortable with and what will help you to be and feel safe.

Steps to Healing

Healing won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. It is within your power to facilitate the process and begin your journey to a new place of happiness and peace.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Recognize your loss. 

  • Honor your feelings and recognize your right to feel the way you do. 

  • Talk about your feelings to those you trust

  • Connect with other survivors of violence and talk about your experience. 

  • Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help if you are struggling. None of us can do it alone.

  • Recognize triggers that take you back to the memory and the fear. 

  • Be patient and don’t make rash decisions — it takes time to figure out where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there

  • Take care of yourself — try to exercise, eat right, and sleep well. 

  • Don’t abandon hope — believe that healing can and will take place.

What’s Next?

As you start to return to your daily routine, you may question your feelings and what you’re going through. Visit to find helpful resources and to learn more about common struggles that survivors encounter following their experiences. If you have a question and can’t find an answer on our website, please contact us and we’ll do our best to provide you with the information, support, and referrals you need.


To provide hope and healing to victims and survivors of crime through advocacy and the support of resources, information, and empowerment from the critical time after a crime occurs through the challenges and successes of surviving and thriving.


  • We believe that no one should feel abandoned or alone and that every person is deserving of love, respect, and dignity.

  • We believe that the best way to help others with hope and healing is to work in partnership with our community, law enforcement, elected leaders, and members of the media.

  • We believe that with faith there is always hope.

  • We believe that all of us together can lift each other out of darkness and into the light of a restored heart and life.

  • We believe that every broken heart, every hurt, every wound can be healed with love and a strong community of support.

  • We believe in hopeful healing.

We are Here to Help!

Crime Survivors is committed to serving our community by being an advocate and resource for crime victims and their families. If you don’t know where to turn, or are confused or frustrated with the public services that are available to you as you recover or seek justice, Crime Survivors can help. Our website will provide information, resources, and tools that will help you become a “Survivor."

Victims Advocacy

Crime Survivors works in your community to make victims’ rights a top priority. We facilitate communication and cooperation across various public service, government, and non-profit organizations to ensure that victims’ rights are understood, and that the services victims are entitled to are received. If you think you are not receiving the assistance you should, please contact us.