While it can be quite easy to make assumptions about how well therapists are able to care for themselves despite the significant experiences of trauma they ingest on behalf of their clients, it is imperative that we be reminded of how profoundly clinicians, first responders, and healthcare professionals in general can be (and often are) impacted by their clients.
Professionals are experts at what they do, and yet are also human.
This blog post is specifically about professionals who work with domestic violence victims. What they experience or live vicariously through their clients’ traumatic stories and how that can affect their daily lives both mentally and physically is profound. Domestic violence stories can be immensely triggering and unmeasurably painful.
I’ve recently re-visited a term known as “Vicarious Trauma.” According to the American Counseling Association, this is “the emotional residue of exposure that counselors have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured.” There are a number of professionals who are experiencing vicarious trauma.
Here is an overview of some of the symptoms domestic violence professionals may experience, broken down into four categories:
- aches and pains
- increased fatigue
- panic attacks
- negative view of the world
- difficulty concentrating
- disruptive images of the trauma
- withdrawal from personal relationships
- decreased social activity that was once enjoyable
- sleep disturbances (ie: nightmares)
We all know that we need to eat right and exercise routinely to stay healthy. Well, this stands true for our mental health as well. Getting the rest your body needs and spending the time on restorative activities (e.g. time with friends, weekend getaways, yoga, etc.) are vital for good self-care.
Do not hesitate to reach out to those who are in the same field as you. Sharing similar experiences with a colleague helps us to be reminded that we are not alone in these challenges. There’s nothing like someone who gets us. Someone who has the first-hand knowledge necessary to understand what we may be experiencing.
Remember to set boundaries with work and life. Balance is key. Be mindful of the workload you take on throughout the day. Trim and crop thoroughly. Learn about what you can and cannot do, and try not to dwell on the things you cannot do. Realize that what is better for you is ultimately better for your client.