WW27 February 15, 2017: Myth 3 – “If I assist traumatized people, will I be traumatized too?”

Wednesday Wisdom Series: “If I assist traumatized people, will I be traumatized too?”
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Here is your bi-monthly Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance
Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation. 

Myth #3 "If I assist traumatized people, will I be
traumatized too?" 

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Over the years, organizations that have trained employees to be part of Care Teams
or Special Assistance Teams that assist the public, other employees, and all families
involved when disaster strikes have often been asked: ‘Will helping someone who
is traumatized cause harm to the employee responder?’ In some cases,
organizations have been misinformed that exposing their employees to trauma might
harm them. We at the Foundation have found this to be a myth. Thirty-plus years of
this work has clearly shown some specific factors that prevent secondary trauma
from being a problem for the organization’s employees.

Three primary factors – responder selection, training, and follow-up processes for
team members – are essential to protecting the health and well-being of employee

Employees who will work during these stressful times should be allowed to
volunteer for the training and assignment of assisting persons exposed to
traumatic stress. Volunteers should then receive approval from the supervisor or
person at the organization who knows the most about their suitability for stressful,
demanding work. Once employee is cleared for training, the training itself should
be designed around exposure to emotional stress and family conflict that an
assignment will likely entail. And finally, the team member must be able to
decline an assignment without questions or repercussions.

The Foundation’s Human Services Response™ (HSR) courses include interviews
with survivors who share their experiences, including the raw emotion that
causes class participants to naturally experience empathy and the human desire to
help alleviate the survivors’ suffering.  Role-plays and case studies are used to
allow the responder to gain experience in managing conflict within families, thinking
through how best to handle unusual or fluid circumstances, and working with
various religions, ethnicities, and cultures. The gentle balance between feeling for
survivors while attempting to assist them in the way that their organization
approves, provides the basis for class participants to choose whether to work with
families in an actual response.

This empowerment, where the employee decides to become involved with an
understanding of the complications that may come with the role, is essential in
helping keep employees safe. Training that is designed without some degree of
exposure to emotion and family conflict issues does not adequately prepare
employees for the job at hand and does not allow them to make an informed
choice about their fitness and readiness for the assignment.

Training should also include a section on self-care and a list of resources where
employees can receive emotional support both during and after a response. A
final component of the training should include examples of reasons why a trained
employee who has decided to become part of the team might decide against
deployment at time of the crisis. Such examples might include: personal
bereavement or other family crisis, relationship issues, child or elder care concerns,
personal or family illness, and any reason that would cause the employee to feel
that they are not at their best to take on a stressful assignment. 

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While leadership will take an active part in ensuring that suitable training is in place
for all team members, another of their key responsibilities is having post-deployment
processes in place to ensure employees have the best chance to regain their own
equilibrium before returning to their normal duties, much less being assigned an
additional stressful role. Research on first responders and investigators clearly
showsthat proper rest breaks between particularly emotional and otherwise stressful
assignments is essential to a long-term, healthy career.

In addition to managing rest breaks between emotional experiences, employee
responders, not unlike the survivors they serve, need options and choices for support
following a particularly stressful assignment. Do not make them mandatory, but have
information readily available about access to counseling services, group meetings,
recognition programs, and other post-response activities. Taking advantage of these
resources will help those who choose to do so, and just knowing they are available
also helps prevent burnout among employee responders. 

These actions by leadership are all part of building a resilient team of individuals
who will be rested and ready for the next response. Videos, newsletters and other
helpful information for training is available on fafonline.org.

© 2017 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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