Have you been struck? Pain sticks
Cover your mouth! Wash your hands! Bundle up in the cold! This wisdom keeps us from sickness and misery. But what if you're a therapist, a social worker, a helper? What do we do. A recent and very accessible article in the Altantic (Dec 14, 2015), talks about PTSD. The title is catching "When PTSD is Contagious." The gist of the article is that we, those that listen, feel, and walk with those hurting, abused, and traumatized are at risk. Now, this is not new information. Secondary Trauma and Vicarious Trauma has a long and rich history. What makes this article worth the quick read is that it humanity, its clarity that the helper does that same thing that the original teller of the story does, avoids, internalizes, and has a aura of shame. We catch the Trauma!!!
Now, there are multiple workshops, mindfulness trainings, and exercises that have been encouraged for those of us that share too much of the collective pain and find our lives reflective of the vulnerable worldview. And as an aside, the current political fearmongering isn't helping. While I encourage seeking out workshops, finding techniques, and even posting on social media, my experience suggests that we need to work through the boundaries, the feelings, the reactions, and the eventual burn-out of carrying pain of the world. I suggest that the helper might be better served finding another helper, in a formal arrangement. Counseling for the helper.
I have experienced and seen my colleagues struggle in their 'outside' lives with the stories, the lives ruined and deaths percipitated, the perceptions, and the conclusions about the world and life from the couch and chair of the office. Emotional closing down, sickness, lack of productivity, constant worry, and mostly, a distancing from the next client who needs us present and intact as signs. Anger, gradiosity, isolation, doubt, and fatigues all follow. Fear of the our shortcomings, caution where not needed and too much deflection from the uncomfortable are companions in the therapy room and at home. The avoidance, the fear, the associative worry become common place and negative. We aren't depressed we are under duress and seige.
Trauma awareness and intervention is all the rage and rightfully so. We will all be faced with more pressure from within the system to identify and walk with the traumatized. We will have greater case loads where trauma and ACEs is be main stage, the core of the problem, the question awaiting an answer. Are we prepare? I don't believe adequately. I think that our professional status gets in our way of reaching out in our dented humanness and lived history. We promote, we believe, we research that talking about it, working through is health. But does it pertain to me? We need to explore our own brand of perception and reaction to our own troubled past, or our own lack of struggle, our isulation and disbelief and the threat to our identity and safety. We must embrass this saying " For the grace of providence, there I go also."
The system needs to respond to the growing needs of the work force and the burden of caring and listening and witnessing. It is slow. it is not there yet. I encourage you to seek private help. To explore the commonality of humankind that affect us each with a trusted guide and confidant.
Keep checking back.
Randy K Moss Ph.D.