Working with traumatized people? Listening or witnessing their traumatizing experiences? Are you a helper: therapist, nurse, social worker, pastor, missionary worker, spiritual care worker, lawyer, rescue worker, frontline aid worker, organizational worker, friend, volunteer…?
Do you sometimes feel tired, burdened, helpless? Do you experience symptoms such as tearfulness, irritability, vulnerability to overstimulation, inability to sleep or relax? Do you sometimes have nightmares, disturbing images, flashbacks of stories you heard from your clients? Have you felt avoidance of social relationship, feelings? Do you sometimes feel numbness? Do you wish to be alone? Are you scared of your or your loved ones’ future? Do you often experience self-doubt, self-blame, dampened meaning of life, inability to make decisions, use creativity and your previous talents and passions? Have you noticed that you have become cynical and losing hope, fearful or overprotective? Have you started to set rigid boundaries in relationships or do you experience lack of boundaries when rescuing others? Have you started to doubt your personal spiritual beliefs?
Any helper who listens or witnesses other trauma victims suffering day after day, may end up experiencing the symptoms of vicarious traumatization, compassion fatique, or burn out… Furthermore, if our helping work takes place in an area of a collective trauma such as in a war torn country or in the catastrophes that surround natural disasters, it is important we realize that we also are on a danger zone of our own traumatization.
Vicarious Trauma is more serious than just a culture of many helping organizations; it can destroy helping professionals and volunteers health and ultimately steal away their joy. It is what happens to our physical, psychological, and spiritual health when we listen and/or witness to traumatic stories day after day or respond to traumatic situations while having to control our own emotional responses and stay calm and effective. Many of us have experienced it… It makes us feel helpless and ultimately it can lead into burn-out and depression if not taken care. The helpers’ own self is a tool they use as a resource, transference, object and role- model in the therapeutic helping relationship. We also use ourselves as a container into which a person to be helped can release their life burdens and emotional pressures. Ultimately, helpers who help trauma victims may end up reacting with similar post-traumatic stress symptoms as their client do. Vicarious traumatization is something that threatens every single helping professional and volunteer worker…
Getting back the colors and connection…People we help change us; to appreciate them and ourselves, we must take care of ourselves too.
It is possible to gain empowerment over vicarious traumatization. The first step is to learn to appreciate and recognize our own emotions, needs, and boundaries. We also need to learn to gain a healthy balance between our work and rest. We all need the feeling of belonging, a true connection with others and to something greater (i.e. spirituality). We must gain back our sense of interdependence, meaning of life, and hope.
In the helping field it is important to admit that we are all more or less wounded healers. According to research ( i.e. Pearlman & Mac, 1995) those helpers with a history of their own trauma may be the most susceptible victims of vicarious traumatization and burn out. Furthermore, less experienced helpers are also more fragile. The professional factors contributing may also include lack of trauma group training, clinical supervision, lack of ventilation of emotions, emptying containers filled with our clients’ trauma, horror and grief.
The research (i.e. Sexton, 1999) shows that the most effective intervention for vicarious traumatization is a group of peers that allows us to explore our vicarious trauma symptoms and debrief our experiences. Away from our existing circumstances, personality, or personal history, there are certain factors (i.e. the work conditions and lack of understanding of PTSD, traumatic loss, or trauma recovery) that may contribute to vicarious traumatization.
Helping Helpers to Help- Workshops
Vicarious Traumatization and Trauma Interventions
We offer workshops that help helpers gain victory over their vicarious traumatization and burn-out symptoms and also workshops that teach basic skills and tools for people working with traumatized people and trauma groups. These workshops can either be organized on-site, to support helpers in the midst of their trauma work, or afterwards, to help them to debrief their experiences.
Empowerment over Vicarious Trauma and Burnout Experienced by Helpers: Emptying Containers
This experiential workshop is ideal for those who listen to the traumatic experiences of others and have experienced this has become a trauma that burdens them as well. The workshop either prepares people to work with traumatized people and/or at the trauma environment or it can help them to debrief their experiences either while working in the midst of it or after they have returned back to their home country … A variety of creative techniques will be used to help workshop participants to identify and explore their vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, secondary stress, burn-out, and resources. The goal is to expand participants’ understanding about the therapeutic relationship i.e. being a container and gaining understanding about their symptoms, transference and projection. Participants also learn to explore their feelings, inner images, physical sensations , and to alternate in their own and the clients` role.
Helping Helpers to Help” – Workshops
Workshop Length? Custom made, 1-10 days (depending the needs and the size of the group).
Amount of participants? 6-30 participants. The workshop will include both large group and small group processing.
Where will we organize the workshops?
The workshops either prepares helpers to work with traumatized people/trauma environment or helps them to debrief their experiences either while working in the field or after … Therefore the workshops can be organized in various places, even at the rescue field itself. These workshops can either be organized on-site, to support helpers in the midst of their trauma work, or afterwards, to help them to debrief their experiences.
- Health care facilities
- Social work facilities
- Universities and schools
- rescue fields
- friends and relatives of victims
- mental health professionals
- therapists (psychotherapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, family/couples therapists, pastoral counselors, creative arts therapists)
- medical doctors
- social workers
- missionary workers
spiritual care workers
judges custody evaluators paralegals rescue workers
frontline aid workers organizational workers police officers
financial advisors journalists and reporters
insurance Claim Agents
Each workshop includes lectures, small group discussions, reflective sharing and experiential workshops. The aim is to empower the participants to recognize and reflect their own experiences and feelings so that even the most traumatizing and dark episodes in their life can turn into a most victorious resources in their work and calling. Another benefit is to gain an insight into some of the root causes of the trauma people may meet in their lives and learn some therapeutic interventions.