Prevention and Intervention
With Dr. Melisa Reeves
|Bradley Cannon, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Even if you haven’t heard
of Dr. Melissa Reeves, you probably heard about her work on the news. Dr.
Reeves is a coauthor of the NASP PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and
Intervention curriculum. She travels nationally and internationally, training
professionals on school crisis prevention and intervention, threat and suicide
assessment, the impact of trauma and PTSD on academic achievement, and
establishing a response to the intervention model. Today she provides her
expert, inside opinion on the recent school shootings, the media’s perception
of these shootings, and what signs to look for to better predict a future
crisis in your own school.
How did you
interested in psychology?
school, I volunteered in a classroom for students with developmental
disabilities, and it was through that experience that I developed the love for
special education, helping others, and becoming intrigued with how the human
Who is your mentor?
had a lot of them along the way, but I would probably have to say that my
biggest mentor is Dr. Patty Meek, a school
psychologist and learning disabilities teacher. She always emphasized that no
we do, it must always be what is best for the child or adolescent.
That has always resonated at the forefront of my decisions.
What has been the most
project you have taken part in?
For me, being one of the coauthors or the
NASP PREPaRE Crisis Prevention and Intervention Curriculum. I was asked to be
involved with it by the National Association of School Psychologists, and it
basically was to volunteer my time and expertise in writing this curriculum. It
is the first curriculum written by school-based professionals for school-based
professionals, which covers crisis prevention all the way through response.
It has now been presented in all 50 states and also internationally. It just
continues to grow, which has been so fun to see.
What is the difference
between prevention and intervention in this curriculum?
people affiliate the PREPaRE program with what we do when there is a big school
shooting; but really the program starts with focusing on the importance of
general prevention, such as bullying, violence, and suicide prevention to build a positive school climate and caring school
way, the students feel like they are accepted, included, and can
be successful academically, socially, and emotionally. The curriculum covers
anything from a car or bus accident to death from an unexpected, sudden illness
or an expected, long-term illness. It reaches all the way through to some of
the larger scale violence events.
As for the difference between prevention and intervention, we look at it
as a cyclical system—meaning that good prevention programs help mitigate
traumatic impact and that good response and recovery intervention efforts build
future resilience. In effect, hopefully we will not have to face the same thing
again, but if we do, then we are better prepared.
What do the media need to
say in the case of these tragedies?
From a media perspective, I think we need to
stop providing 24/7 hour coverage of these incidences. There is a delicate
balance of how much the public needs to know because the incessant news stories
that go on can actually be traumatizing to individuals. Also, there are reports
that some of the shooters’ violent tendencies are encouraged
by media reports and news coverage of prior shootings. Specific data on that is
hard to come by as some of the perpetrators have committed suicide, but
certainly it is a concern when there is incessant media coverage.
On an individual level, we need to protect ourselves from this incessant
media coverage so we’re not traumatized. Honestly, some of that is just turning
off media and internet coverage. Parent monitoring is a huge component to
decreasing traumatic exposure, especially in children and adolescents who may
not have the self-monitoring skills to know when to shut it off.
Between psychological and
physical safety, which do we most overlook?
balance of both: either one without
the other and we have gaps in our safety.
Physical safety is important, but we do not want to overreact and send the
message that schools are fortresses or spend a lot of money on resources that
may not be necessary. School shootings are very rare. To even that out, we also
need to address psychological safety by talking to students about how it is okay to "break the code of silence” if they hear something of
concern. It is really important for schools to have a confidential reporting
system in place, so that students are open and willing to share concerning information
with adults to take action and get help. The positive relationship between the
adults and students at school is the most critical factor to school safety
Who is the most
take part in a shooting?
This is challenging. When it comes to school
shootings in general, there is no one particular profile. Some risk factors or
early warning signs include: whether any direct or indirect threats are made;
if an individual expresses
a negative view of the world, of others, or
if they project anger and blame through an "us vs. them” mentality;
practice behaviors for violence, such as violent writings, internet postings,
an obsession with violent video games; and/ or if they try to buy
ammunition or guns or ask around as to how they can get weapons; these are all
red flags and warning signs.
Another sign we have seen lately is that they are socially
disconnected—or at least their perception is that they are not accepted by
others. Some of them have stressors going on in their lives. To some extent
there is a sense of hopelessness or helplessness and they do not see any other
a violent ending. They also tend to be individuals with a
history of mental health issues, and often people tried to get them help, but
the mental health system and/or our laws made this difficult. For example, one
of the challenges we have in this country is that we have often identified
individuals we fear could be violent, but until they break the law, we cannot
do anything because of civil and personal rights. We either have to wait for
them to commit a crime, or we have to essentially prove that someone is
mentally incompetent. This takes a lot of time and is not easy to do. If the
person is a minor, parents have to provide permission for intervention.
Our mental health system makes it difficult when we see some of the
warning signs to get help. Right now it has been brought to President Obama’s
attention that we have a broken mental health system, and we need to find ways
we can get help when we see some of these indicators. I have worked with
parents who are very concerned for their children, but struggle to find mental
health services. Either they do not have private insurance or the services that
are not intensive enough to meet the needs of the child.
Essentially, we have very few resources for kids or adults demonstrating
serious health issues. I would say it is a crisis in our country.
At what age is it safe to
begin telling children information about a crisis,
or does this vary?
What we advocate
for in the PREPaRE curriculum is that you let the questions be the guide. If
they ask questions, answer honestly; but don’t give them more information than
they ask for, because this can lead to anxiety. If they don’t ask, then they
might not be at a point developmentally where they want to discuss what is
happening. Also, if they do ask, always bring the conversation back to
proactive measures being taken by those at home and at school to ensure physical
and psychological safety. You cannot promise that something bad will never
happen in their school or home; but you can reinforce that the likelihood is
very, very small.
If students are interested
area of psychology, what classes will prepare them for this role?
be important for them to take a variety of different classes. My expertise area
of school crisis prevention and intervention can overlap into forensic
psychology, sociology courses such as deviancy, and also courses within the
criminal justice field. For those interested also in school psychology, courses
in human development, psychopathology, anything in the realm of behavior
analysis, cognition, and also diversity are important. A good understanding of
diversity is critical in working with the youth of today. In addition, when we
talk about the violent perpetrators’ perceptions of the world, a lot of the
times they are found to have a very limited repertoire of what they accept in
regards to diversity.
What can we expect from
project I am working on—other than PREPaRE—is for the Department of Defense
of Defense Educational Activity). I am working with a
team to provide safe
schools resources, consultation, and staff development to
DoDEA schools on military installations, both in the US and also
internationally. We are helping them to refine, improve, or possibly implement
new safety initiatives. We are linking our work
to the concepts in the PREPaRE
curriculum in hopes that we might be able to bring that training to all of our
Department of Defense schools. That is a long-range goal but at this point we
are working to help refine and develop their safety initiatives, which they
take very seriously. It has been a great experience working with our military
personnel and educators that serve our military families. They are a great
group of professionals!