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by Bonnie J. Collins EdM LCSW-R, Trina M Laughlin LCSW-R
The Power of Story provides a self-care process that can help prevent and alleviate vicarious trauma. The stories illustrate and acknowledge that the very nature of trauma therapy exposes therapists to vicarious trauma. The stories also provide hope and encouragement to those who are story listeners.
Providing therapeutic help to someone who has suffered trauma puts the therapist at risk for vicarious trauma. Unlike burnout or compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma leaves the therapist with symptoms of either acute or hyper-vigilant and agitated. They may have lost the desire to pursue their work or other activities in their lives that normally give them joy. Conversely, they may work night and day, desperately trying to find the “correct” approach to a particular case or personal life challenge. Relationships with family, friends, and colleagues may suffer. For some, a pervasive sense of inadequacy begins to paralyze them and makes them inflexible in their work. Like the trauma responses in our clients, vicarious trauma is very real and very troubling. Vicarious trauma negatively impacts trauma therapists in mind, body, and spirit.
Therapists are human, too. When we hear the unbearable, when we paint a mental picture of the unseeable, we push ourselves beyond our normal range of coping as well. But when we share the pain we have heard with one another – much as we embraced the gift in the trauma for our clients – we become heartened to do it again.
In our seminars on how to cope with vicarious trauma, we read one of our stories to our audience, which almost immediately triggers stories from them. Everyone involved in this process has found the idea of recording stories in a journal of healing to be exciting. We would like you, the reader, to experience these stories. We hope that you will find they trigger your own.