Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Trauma Stewardship

While I really love my job and feel so lucky to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of families through my career, sometimes the days are heavy with sadness. Every day, I meet new people that have unique difficult circumstances, but I see the same overarching problems associated with poverty. I am often overwhelmed to see the struggles and pain of my clients and their children, and the impact of poverty on so many families. Some days, I come home drained and exhausted... from carrying grief that is not my own. While many days are filled with reward and gratitude, other days - it's harder to cope. I was never able to articulate how I felt at the end of the day, until I read this book last week.

It can be called "secondary trauma," "emotional toll" or "caregiver stress" - but whatever you want to call it, it certainly exists and needs to be addressed. I liked this definition of secondary trauma: "the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person" or the "cumulative transformative effect of working with survivors of traumatic life events." Have you experienced this in your job?

A few weeks ago, my office had a training for our staff that focused on the very real needs of caregivers like attorneys and social workers that are working with families in crisis. How do we manage our stress? How can we alleviate the emotional toll our job takes on us? Is it even fair to consider our own stress in comparison to our clients'? How can we experience trauma at work and then go home to our partners and children? Does all the suffering we see at work infiltrate our personal lives? We had a great discussion that day that ranged from stress relieving tips to how we separate our work lives from our personal lives. In the end, the goal is to help ourselves so that we can help others.

I was moved to see how my colleagues are genuinely invested in the work that we do, and how some of us have really struggled to come to terms with harsh realities we see everyday. We feel other people's pain, and sometimes it's a challenge to deal with our own feelings of guilt, anxiety, distress, injustice and hopelessness. It's hard to balance the desire to help with the feeling like we can never do enough. That's where this extremely well written, systematic and organized book comes in. It verbalized thoughts I didn't even know I was having, and gave me perspective to keep from burning out.

It turns out that the only way to take care of others is to take care of yourself first (this applies for being a parent, too). I'm sure other readers in similar high-stress jobs can understand... how can we efficiently help others if we are not able to manage our own stress? Our clients will benefit from our own stability. I think it's important to recognize this secondary trauma and deal with it properly - so we can continue to do our jobs, but also so we can continue to live our lives.

I honestly did not know I needed to read this book until I finally read it... and it was eye-opening. It is a well articulated, hopeful discussion about humanity and deserves to be on every bookshelf.

                              

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