On the morning of September 11, 2001, Elizabeth Goren saw from her Greenwich Village office a plane flying right outside her window down Fifth Avenue. When she saw the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center, she had a choice: go home to safety or go where she might be of some help. She chose the latter option and embarked on what was a life-changing odyssey—for her and for the firefighters whom she counseled in the days, months, and years following 9/11.
Goren, a faculty member in NYU’s Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, was assigned to a downtown Manhattan firehouse that lost a number of its men that day. In Beyond the Reach of Ladders: My Story as a Therapist Forging Bonds with Firefighters in the Aftermath of 9/11 (Open Gate Press), she describes the challenges--and rewards--of working with members of the FDNY who had always prided themselves on taking care of others and taking care of their own, but who, for the first time, were put in a position of having to accept outside help.
“Between their skepticism if not downright suspiciousness of therapy, their trauma, and their acute grief, they were in a state of confusion and active resistance,” Goren says. “To be honest, these are men who would have been resistant to counseling and to talking with an outsider even under the best of circumstances. They were used to being the helpers, not the ones being helped. Also, as first responders, they were, understandably, concerned about putting their job at risk by revealing any kind of chink in their armor.”
Beyond the Reach of Ladders takes readers behind the scenes at a firehouse that was at the heart of the rescue effort, and, in chronicling the time following the attacks, provides insights into the impact of the 9/11 attacks.
“The Fire Department has a tradition of commemorative rituals which play an important role in their ability to cope with death, which is inherent to what they do,” Goren observes. “As for the individual men, I think the approaching 10th anniversary brings up the same kind of issues each man struggled with most through 9/11. For some, they’re thinking so much more about the friends they lost. Others are remembering specific things that happened that day. One of the guys told me that with guys leaving and new guys coming in, firehouses roll over in about ten years. Perhaps we can all look to this decade marker as the beginning of a new era.”