Counseling Offered To Miss. CU Staff

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In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi Credit Union League has been providing free psychological counseling to credit union employees and wants to reach all of the roughly 500 CU workers who live and work along the Gulf Coast.

To expand awareness, MCUA is conducting a presentation at its upcoming annual conference in the Florida panhandle. MCUA President Charles Elliott calls the sessions "debriefings" and said they were designed to teach people how to understand what they're going through personally and then how to recognize the emotions in other people.

"The way they feel is normal. There's nothing wrong with them," Elliott said. "We find it invaluable. Everyone had 'dealing with a hurricane' added to their job description."

MCUA arranged the services of Charles Scott, a licensed social worker from Jackson, Miss. who was counseling FEMA workers before they went into the disaster zone and after they came out. Elliott said Scott's services are being underwritten by the National Credit Union Foundation.

"He's been a God-send," Elliott said.

Employees at Navigator Credit Union in Moss Point, Miss., have already undergone counseling from Scott, with EVP Laurin Avara telling The Credit Union Journal that groups of 10-12 employees have attended the two-hour sessions. "We've all been 'Katrina-ized'. We've all been stressed out," Avara said.

Avara said the sessions themselves can be stressful, with some CU employees weeping from painful memories, but have not been disruptive to Navigator CU operations. He noted that many people in the Gulf States have had trouble sleeping or might be over medicating with prescription drugs or alcohol.

Avara said the counseling teaches employees and members to recognize the feelings and symptoms in themselves and others. After learning stress symptoms, discussing what they're going through and learning that everyone else is feeling essentially the same things, Avara said the sessions end with a five to 10-minute quiet period similar to meditation.

"It can be a stressful event, if you're carrying a burden. As for me, it has helped. My stress level has been reduced," he said.

Elliott said disasters have leave behind four stages for survivors: the heroic stage just after the event; the honeymoon after realizing they have indeed survived; the disillusionment phase of hard work that can last up to two years, and then a multi-year reconstruction phase.

"We're in the third phase right now, which is the worst," he said.

Elliott said the counseling program is being continually assessed and updated with the long-term goal of reaching all Gulf State credit union employees who, in turn, can then spot the behavior in members and help them through their tough times. Roughly 160 CU employees and managers have been debriefed so far. The MCUA will present the counseling methods at its annual meeting May 1 to 3 in Sandestin, Fla.

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