This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is an appendix to the seminar manual.
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Secondary trauma is commonly referred to as “the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” Hearing of the trauma someone you care about experienced can have the effects of trauma in your own life. This is part of the sacrifice of love that is involved in this area of care. But it is something that is not well understood and results in a high rate of burnout amongst those who care for those who have experienced trauma.
This appendix is meant to provide guidance for those who would use this material in a counselor, mentor, group leader, or befriending role. Understanding secondary traumatic stress and countering its influence is an important part of you being a healthy, long-term asset in the life of those who have experienced trauma.
Begin with this realization: if you are going to provide care or counsel in the area of trauma, you will need to apply everything in this study in your own life. Usually this point is made to counter hypocrisy or a sense of superiority. While these are still valid points to make, they are not the emphasis of this appendix. Because to be exposed to trauma, even the story of trauma, is traumatic, you will face similar challenges as those for which you provide care as a result of caring.
Start by reviewing the trauma assessment tool in step two. Familiarize yourself with the kind of reactions that frequently emerge when we are exposed to trauma. Early detection is important for two reasons. First, it prevents inaccurate interpretations of these experiences (i.e., just a bad day, depressed, spiritual warfare, I’m doing something wrong, etc…). Second, it equips you to begin countering these influences before they get “that bad” in your own life.
Next, make sure your own base of care and healthy life practices are in place. Look at the suggestions from step one and identify the areas of your own life that need to be strengthened. Caring for yourself well is an important part of ensuring you are available to be an effective, healthy companion on someone else’s post-traumatic journey.
Here are some general recommendations:
- Simplify life during this season. Do not add the stress of being over-scheduled to secondary traumatic stress.
- Be disciplined in your sleeping and exercise routines. Remain physically strong during a time of emotional strain.
- Stay engaged with your pleasurable interests. If you do not, then pain and suffering will dominate your world.
- Read your Bible for you. Don’t lose the personal-ness of your relationship with God. You are not just God’s ambassador to the person(s) you care for, you are God’s child who he delights in and wants to know.
- Have a friend or counselor who cares for you. You do not have to breach confidentiality to have relationships where you talk about your needs and interests. Seasons of giving more should also involve receiving more.
If this is an area where you anticipate being involved in ministry for an extended period of time, then it would be recommended that you read whichever of the books below best fit your context / role.
- Compassion Fatigue: Coping With Secondary Post Traumatic Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized by Charles Figley – This is a full book devoted to the subject of secondary traumatic stress.
- Coping With Post Traumatic Disorder: A Guide For Families by Cheryl A. Roberts – Families who have a loved one who suffers from PTSD also experience secondary traumatic stress. This book provides guidance for these families.
- Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Diane Langberg (Part 6, Chapters 23-25) – In this section of her book, Diane Langberg goes into greater detail about how counseling traumas, such as sexual abuse, affect the counselor and provides additional guidance on important aspects of self-care.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.