Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Disaster Psychology & Vicarious Trauma

Today in my CERT class we discussed disaster psychology. Not only did we discuss the psychological stages that disaster survivors go through, but also vicarious trauma experienced by first responders, rescue workers, counselors, and other staff.
For persons who work with trauma survivors, the most important part of coping with the intensity of the work is to acknowledge it will affect you. If you've been trained in crisis intervention and empathic, active listening skills, this work will affect you. If you really listen to what the client is telling you, this work will affect you. Recognizing that it is "normal" to be affected by this type of work is the most important coping skill that you can give to yourself. You're not alone. It's okay to feel outraged, horrified, shocked, saddened, or vulnerable.

Coping with the feelings and reactions to your clients' trauma is the next step in addressing vicarious trauma. We may try to cope in many ways. In general, people deal with crises and trauma in different ways as do the persons in the helping profession. Some of the ways we get through the experience are health and productive, such as having peer consultation about a difficult case. Other ways we try to face the trauma are unhealthy and unproductive such as seeing all men as potential child molesters. |Vicarious Trauma: Bearing Witness|
Watching this video by the Guardian's Sean Smith brought home to me the trauma that soldiers go through when they are in combat for extended periods of time. The video opens with a soldier saying that his battalion been in almost constant contact with the enemy during his fourteen month tour.

The following article discusses the many conflicting emotions that PTSD counselors go through in trying to care for their charges.
It is not uncommon for seasoned therapists, advocates, or caregivers to experience a sudden feeling of incompetence and hopelessness when dealing with a traumatized patient. The experience of vicarious symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may challenge the caregiver's basic faith, heighten a sense of personal vulnerability, distrust and cynicism about the human condition.

The therapist may experience profound grief and feel as though he or she were in mourning with the victim. As well, the caregiver may feel caught between identifying with the perpetrator and the victim. There may be moments of frank hate and contempt, and a wish to be rid of the victim.

These may be indicative of the therapist's difficulty in coming to terms with the possibility of their own capacity for violent behaviour. For these reasons, those who work with traumatized people need an ongoing support system to deal with the intensity of their reactions in their relationship with the victim, or perpetrator. No survivor can recover alone, and no therapist can work with trauma alone.
|Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Secondary Trauma| (citations omitted)
This helps explain why the American mental health system is being overwhelmed by the number of troubled soldiers returning from Iraq.

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