TAPS is the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Suicide deaths are the most common types of referrals made to TAPS. More information about TAPS itself is presented in a moment. Through its work with survivors of tragic, untimely deaths of loved ones in the military services, the organization created the TAPS Three-Phase Postvention Model. The trio of elements of the model are:
- Grief work
- Post-traumatic growth
After some essential background information on the organization and its work, each of the elements of the TAPS Three-Phase Postvention Model are discussed.
Background About the TAPS Organization
TAPS was founded in the aftermath of an actual tragedy involving the death of a member of the military. The founder’s husband was killed in an airplane accident in Alaska. After the tragic death of her husband, the founder of TAPS spent some time looking around to find a support program that met the needs of people who are the survivors of the tragic deaths of loved ones. Not finding a supportive program enough on point, she founded TAPS.
As of this time, TAPS has assisted over 90,000 survivors of tragic deaths of loved ones. Approximately 16,000 of these individuals are survivors of suicide loss. Those categories of people TAPS has assisted include:
- Family members
- Casualty officers
Core Services Offered by TAPS
There are a set of core services made available to survivors through TAPS. These are:
- Long term outreach services provided by trained peer professionals
- Healing seminars, retreats, expeditions, and one-day events
- Good Grief Camps with military mentors
- Peer mentoring program
- Online community
- TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing
Responding to Suicide Loss Survivors
As mentioned a moment ago, suicide loss survivors represent the major cohort of people referred to TAPS. The survivors require a specialized type of supportive programming, which TAPS strives to provide. TAPS has endeavored to develop a course of programming designed to meet the unique needs and requirements of suicide loss survivors. Out of this objective was the development of the TAPS Three-Phase Postvention Model.
Primary Objectives of the TAPS Three-Phase Postvention Model
There are three primary objectives associated with the TAPS Three-Phase Postvention Model. These are:
- Provides a clear and comprehensive model for health and healing
- Help identify where survivors might get stuck in the grief journey
- Extends our common understanding of the grief journey
TAPS recognizes that grief is a lifelong journey. The model presents a roadmap to go through the grief journey in the healthiest manner possible.
Each of the three phases of the TAPS model has three key tasks. The trio of key tasks for the first phase of the TAPS model, the stabilization phase, are:
- Assess and refer for any suicide risk and assess for clinical needs
- Assess and refer for any trauma
- Assess suicide-specific issues and address with peer support
Suicide Risk Assessment
An assessment is made of a survivor of suicide loss for his or her own risk of suicide. The reality is that a survivor of suicide loss is at a greater suicide risk themselves. A survivor of suicide loss is also at greater risk for other mental health issues like depression. In addition, a survivor of suicide loss is at a more significant risk for substance use or abuse.
About 76 percent of military suicides happen in the family home, the barracks, or the workplace. As a consequence, there is a great deal of trauma associated with a suicide because of exposure to the suicide scene (or even the suicide itself). This type of traumatic situation can include witnessing the actual suicide, coming on to the suicide scene, or having responsibility for suicide cleanup. As a result, an individual in this type of position may require trauma treatment and support as well.
Suicide Specific Issues
A survivor of suicide loss can face an array of different suicide specific issues. Suicide specific issues can include:
- Why? The challenge of understanding why a person took his or her own life
- Religion and spirituality
- Telling children about the death by suicide
- Talking about suicide
- Family dynamics
- Relationship-specific issues
- Complex, conflicting emotions
- Military culture around death
The three key tasks of the grief work phase of the TAPS Three-Phase Postvention Model are:
- Help survivors find a grief rhythm
- Shift focus from how one died to how one lived
- Build a different relationship with the deceased individual
Many have a tendency to avoid the emotions associated with grief. Finding ways to embrace grief and the emotions associated with it are the objective with this particular key component.
As part of that process, a person needs to be able to come to an understanding that he or she can identify grief as love. When a person feels the grief wave coming, a person needs to try to embrace it.
The second key task associated with grief work is shifting the focus away from the way in which a deceased loved one died and to how that individual lived. A survivor of suicide loss needs to be able to reconnect with positive memories of a deceased loved one. Oftentimes, this involves focusing on memories from a period beyond the last months or even year or so of that individual’s life. Upon reflection, a survivor of suicide loss will recognize that the deceased individual was “not his or her self” during this time period.
Build Different Relationship
Finally, the third key of the grief work phase is redefining or building a different relationship with the deceased individual. This includes not only focusing on positive memories (as discussed a moment ago) but weaving those memories into a survivor’s current life and existence. Building a different relationship permits a survivor the ability to move forward in life by achieving a healthy grief journey.
The three key tasks of post-traumatic growth are:
- Help survivors to find meaning from their loss
- Help survivors tell their stories in a way that restores hope
- Help survivors live their own lives in a more connection and intentional way
The first key task of the post-traumatic growth phase is to assist a survivor of suicide loss in finding meaning in his or her life today. A survivor of suicide loss needs to be able to appreciate and build on what remains in his or her life following the death by suicide of a loved one.
In this phase, a survivor of suicide loss is aided in developing a more affirming story. This involves moving a survivor of suicide loss from a story that focuses on self-blame and shame when it comes to the death of their loved one.
According to the TAPS Three-Phase Postvention Model, among the most significant or biggest gifts of grief are the connections a person can have with others following a significant loss (like the death by suicide of a loved one). In addition, seemingly little things in life can take on new meaning. The goal here is to appreciate the beauty and good things that exist in the world around a survivor of suicide.
In conclusion, it is important to note that the three phases of this model aren’t linier. They are circular. In other words, a person can “work through” one of the phases only to circle back to it again at a later date. This is regarded as not only understandable but a perfectly normal experience in working through the process of grieving the loss of a loved on by suicide or another traumatic death in a healthy manner.