Trauma and the helping professional

There are so many things that happen in peoples lives that impact their ability to work effectively with children and youth. A lot of times people get into this field of work because of their own childhood and adolescent experiences. Many people also have experiences in their work that change how they relate to clients in the future. From my work experience I’ve struggled to work with violent clients, I spent many years working with them but now I know it isn’t my most effective client group because of my past experiences. I also have had experiences in residential treatment which have made me realize I work better in other locations. Bessel Van Der Kolk has written articles on Developmental Trauma Disorder and those articles have really influenced my understanding of trauma and the profound and long lasting impact it has on a child’s life.

A lot of professionals (such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers) try not to work with trauma or do trauma based treatments. Often times professionals are avoiding their own problems or don’t have the skills needed to provide effective support to these children and youth. In the CYC profession we often work with children that have a history of interpersonal trauma and by being more aware we can integrate a more holistic healing approach.
The article written by Showalter gives reference to the struggle experienced by professionals working in this field of work. Often times organizations aren’t set up to meet the needs of staff to prevent them being traumatized. These organizations may also take cost saving efforts and keep locations under staffed or otherwise make choices that put the staff at greater risk for being hurt. When she talks about being sensitive to the emotions of others she mentions that people who are more sensitive are at greater risk. There’s a fine balance between putting up walls and being distant and being over involved. Often when a professional hasn’t dealt with their own pains and traumas they’re more vulnerable to being traumatized at their work. As humans there is an amount of emotion that is natural given the stories we are hearing and the things we see in our profession.
A variety of skills can be learned and used when considering the impacts of trauma, at times they include communication skills, emotion regulation skills, and self acceptance. By allowing ourselves as professionals to be human we don’t need to hide ourselves behind our professional titles. We can learn to accept that we feel and are influenced by our work and that is ok as long as we manage it effectively.
There are two main ways to understand ourselves in regards to the trauma we experience as professionals, we can either channel these experiences to motivate us and encourage us to stay in the profession or we may get burnt out, be upset with ourselves for feeling too much, or become too exhausted by the experiences. We are tested and challenged constantly but it’s our job as professionals to rise above this and endure and perservere. Our choices and experiences and work does matter and that makes all the difference.
Reference: Showalter, S. (2010). Compassion fatigue: What is it? Why does it matter? Recognizing the symptoms, acknowledging the impact, developing the tools to prevent compassion fatigue, and strengthen the professional already suffering from the effects. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, 27(4), 239-242.