Tools for Overcoming Fears of School Violence

By Dr Robert Schwarz


This article is for students and parents of students who want to overcome fears about school violence that are troubling or disabling. Before going into specifics, I want to make it very clear that there is effective help available. It is not required that you or your child be limited by fear.

In this article you will learn about several powerful methods to reduce fear and anxiety. Different approaches work for different people. So be willing to try them all until you find the tool that works for you. First, you need to understand with what you are really dealing. We all want to believe that nothing bad will ever happen to us. For instance, we all have what I call the “delusion of the double yellow line”. This delusion is that no car will ever cross the double yellow line. This of course is not true. But we all act like it is true, until it happens to us. People who develop driving phobias after accidents have a very strong tendency to become very angry with themselves for being anxious. They wish they could go back to the delusion. Once this delusion has been shattered, we can no longer go back to its comfort. The school violence issue is similar. Now that all these traumatic events have happened, it is impossible to pretend that it never can happen.

This brings us to the first important tool and lesson. You need to be accepting of the fact that given the circumstances, it is normal and appropriate to have fear. Being accepting of the normalcy of your fear is the first step. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a wimp. Fear itself is not the big problem. The problem occurs when the fear begins to make us withdraw from people and the world. The problem occurs when fear begins to dominate us. Pay attention to how critical you are of yourself for being afraid. That criticism only makes it worse.

The second step is to talk about your fears and concerns with someone who will just listen. It's the last part that is often the problem. For instance, parents will often want to fix the problem or tell you not to be worried. This often makes people feel worse. So, show your parent's this article and tell one or both of them that you just want them to listen and not try to fix any thing or reassure you. They do not need to do anything or say anything. Then tell them what you are feeling. When you do this make sure you include feelings from all of the major feeling groups: anger, fear, sadness, regret and at the end close with positive feelings such as love and appreciation for them listening. It is important to do this because many times a person will focus only on one part of how they feel. For instance, Jane a 15 year old talked only about her fear of violence. She never felt better. However, when she allowed herself to talk about her anger at the people who committed the violence and the anger at all the violence in video games followed by her sadness about how she did not feel protected by the school and her parents she felt a great deal of relief. It also led her to taking certain action. For many of you, a full telling of all of your feelings will be very helpful. You may need to do this more than once.

This brings us to step 3: taking action. There are several parts to this. The first is very basic. Have you developed your own personal plan about what you would want to do in the event that something happens? Do you know the most efficient ways to get out of your school from the various classes you attend? You cannot control whether or not violence happens, you can control what you will do to escape should it happen. Would you go for an exit or would you go to the principal's office. Having a plan is a way to take charge of your life.

Another way to take charge is to take action to change your feelings. They are your feelings and you are response-able to manage them. In the previous example, Jane took charge by talking about all of her feeling, which made her less scared. In addition, she realized that she most disliked feeling passive and victimized. She felt that all the violence on video games and television was partly responsible for the increased violence in school. She decided to get involved in a group that works to reduce violence in the media. This made her like she was doing something positive and she did not feel like a victim of the fear. The fear became less and less a controlling part of your life. So this is the second way to take action. Pay attention to ALL of what you are feeling and take some action that addresses some aspect of your feelings so that you do not withdraw. Taking action almost always reduces fear and withdrawal reactions. It does not need to be a big thing. Start by doing one small thing differently.

Step 4: Working with your thoughts and images. These tools can be particularly useful if you spend a lot of time seeing scary movies or thinking scary thoughts of school violence in your mind. Obviously, if you run a horror movie in your head about what could happen, you should not be surprised that you are fearful. Most probably you have tried to stop the pictures or thoughts from happening and have failed. So here are a few methods to get control of your brain. Instead of trying to stop the movie or the negative thoughts, change the way you think about them in the following manner. Do not try to change the content or the plot. If you tell yourself scary thoughts change the voice in your head to sound like the narrator or the bad guy has just inhaled helium. An alternative would be to sing the thoughts in your mind. It is preferable to use songs that you already know that are not scary. An example would be the tune “oops I did it again”.
If you run movies in your mind, first make the movie very small and in black and white as if you were in the back row of a very large theatre with a very small screen. Another approach is to make the bad guys in the movie very small and you very large. If you try these things you will find that one or several of them may have a profound effect on how you feel.

Step 5: This last step is a treatment called Thought Field Therapy or TFT. It uses acupressure points in the body. TFT is based on the idea that negative feelings such as fear come from imbalances in the energy system of the body. Think about it. Can't you feel the energy of the anxiety and fear in your body? If you did not have those terrible feelings you would not be afraid. You can either do this treatment yourself or you can work with your parent or even a friend. I always explain to people that this treatment will seem weird. So do not worry if it seems weird to you. It is weird. But, it is very powerful and works very quickly. The treatment below is an algorithm that is often effective for fears and anxiety. It will not work for everyone. Some people do not fit the average model. A trained clinician can work with you discover the sequence of points that will work for you.

The Treatment protocol for Fear and Anxiety

1. Focus your attention on the fear.

2. Rate your distress on a SUDS (Subjective Units of Distress Scale) of 0-10 where “0” is no distress or upset at all and “10” is as much as possible.

3. Tap the following meridian points about 10 times per point in the sequence 1, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 3. Use the picture to locate the points. Do this while thinking about the fear. Do not worry if you cannot think about the fear that clearly while you are tapping. Tapping should be gentle yet firm. About the same pressure you would use to type. Points 1, 4 and 5 should be tapped with one finger. Use the flat of your hand for point 2 and SH and use two fingers for points 3 and BH)

4. Focus back on the picture of the feared school violence. What is your current suds level? Generally it goes down by at least two points. You should not have any doubt in your mind that you are less distressed. If this is the case the treatment continues to step 5. If it has not really gone down or you are not sure go to step 9

5. This next part is called the 9-gamut treatment. This activates different parts of the brain. It appears to spread the effect of the treatment throughout the brain. Tap the back of his hand just behind the knuckle between the pinky and the ring finger in between the tendons. (BH). Do the following tasks while tapping BH at the same time.

Close your eyes
Open your eyes
Look down to the left (just the eyes- the head does not move)
Look down to the right
Roll your eyes one direction (e.g. clockwise)
Roll your eyes in the other direction (e.g. counter clockwise)
Hum a tune (e.g. happy birthday for 5 seconds
Count from 1to 5 out loud
Hum a tune for 5 seconds.

6) Re-rate the SUDS. If the SUDS continues to drop repeat step 4. Think about the feared event and tap the sequence of points 1, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 3

7) If the SUD continues to drop and is not yet at a 1 or 0, repeat the nine-gamut treatment, followed by tapping the sequence of points 1, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 3. Generally, it takes only 1-2 rounds of this treatment as long as the numbers keep going down. For instance, Alex starts off being very scared that there is going to be a shooting in his school. He has a SUDs of 8. He taps - The SUDS go to 5. He does the 9-Gamut. The SUDS goes to 3. He taps. The SUDS go to 1. He does the 9-Gamut he does not have any more fear about school violence happening. His reaction is “If it happens it happens, but I am not scared about it. It is hard to even think about it”

If at any point the SUDS does not drop by at least 2 points (unless the person is already at a 4 or lower) go to step 9 Treat for Psychological reversal.

8) Once you are at a 1 or O the last step is to continue to tap on the back of the hand (BH) while very slowly (to the count of 10) moving your eyes from the floor to the ceiling.

At this point the treatment is essentially done. Many times the one treatment is enough. Other times people need to treat themselves again.

9) When the treatment does not seem to work. Psychological Reversals & Blocks to Treatment [About 30% of the time treatment will have no effect at first or it will stop working part way through. This can be corrected. .

Perhaps one of the biggest potential breakthroughs of TFT is the understanding and treatment of reversals. For our purposes at the present moment reversals are blocks to treatment working. They are not your fault. They just exist sometimes. And, they can be easily treated. Blocks to treatment can come in one of two places. The first place is at the beginning of treatment.

You tried the sequence of tapping:(points 1, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 3.) Nothing much happened. You have a choice. You can come in for one or two sessions of treatment and we can find out what is blocking you. There are up to 5 common blocks. Or you can use the following trial and error method (I will take you through the two most common blocks). A) Rub the neurolymphatic area (NLA on the figure) on the left side of your body. You find this by placing your hand like you are doing the pledge of allegiance. Then press firmly in the general area until you find a sore spot. The sore spot is the NLA. Rub the NLA while repeating the following affirmation three times: “I deeply and profoundly accept myself with all my problems and limitations.” The treatment is then re-applied starting from step

1. If the numbers start going down the reversal has been cleared. Proceed with the basic treatment. If the numbers do not go down, try the next reversal. Rub the same spot while saying: “I deeply and profoundly accept and forgive myself even though I have this problem.” Problem can be replaced with your own words for the problem; for example “…even though I am scared to go to school”. Then redo the treatment from step 1 once again. The numbers will usually begin to go down. If they do not go down you have one of the other three reversals.

The second place that psychological reversal shows up is in the middle of treatment. The SUDS have been dropping. Then all of a sudden they stop dropping. This is called a mini-reversal. It is as if there is a block to getting over the problem completely. As soon as the SUDS stop dropping Tap the side of your hand (SH) while saying the following affirmation three times “ I deeply and profoundly accept myself even though I STILL have SOME of this problem.” Then restart the treatment on the section that did NOT lead to a drop in SUDS. For instance, you begin with a SUDS of 9. The Sequence of 1, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 3.) is tapped. The SUDS drops to a 6. You do the 9-Gamut nothing changes. Apply the treatment for mini-PR and reapply the 9-gamut treatment. The numbers will then start to go down again.

If the numbers do not start going down again you have one of the other three reversals. I apologize that we could not put everything in this article. You can do one of several things. Call for a few coaching sessions or you can read more about how to use these approaches by purchasing a book written by two of my colleagues The book is called Energy Tapping by Gallo and Vincenzi.

You can do the different approaches in this article in any order you like. You do not have to be controlled by fear. I hope that many of you reading will find some relief from these tools. The self-help information provided here is designed to let you know the beginnings of what is possible. They are not a substitute for professional help. If you find that the ideas here and at the web site do not work for you on your own, do not be discouraged. Simply take action and get the help you deserve.

Dr Robert Schwarz is a Licensed Psychologist with 20 years experience in effective therapy approaches. He is the director of the Mars and Venus Counseling and Wellness Center with offices in Haverford and Media. The center has a full range of traditional and alternative services working with children, couples individuals and families. Dr Schwarz has written two books and numerous articles on trauma. The website for the full version of this article and much more information is For more information or to make an appointment call 610-6642-0884.