Can I be a good trauma worker if I’m a trauma survivor myself?

When asked what the greatest challenges are for trauma workers who are trauma survivors themselves, respondents commented:

  • Separating their story from others; that is, being entwined with their clients’ experiences
  • Transference as it impacts their professionalism, their boundaries, vicarious trauma and themselves
  • Re–traumatisation as it exacerbates them leaving the field and can lead to development of mental health issues
  • The continuous exposure to trauma as it can undermine their sense of the world being a safe place
  • Connectedness, as this is at the basis of being able to connect to others/self and possibly a spiritual life
  • The profound loneliness of trauma and one’s vulnerability in facing it
  • The deep emotional impact creating fatigue in all areas of one’s life

As Peter Levine says in his book ‘Healing Trauma’ (2008)…

Trauma is about loss of connection – to ourselves, to our bodies, to our families, to others, and to the world around us. This loss of connection is often hard to recognise, because it doesn’t happen all at once. It can happen slowly, over time, and we adapt to these subtle changes sometimes without even noticing them….we may simply sense that we do not feel quite right without ever becoming fully aware of what is taking place; that is, the gradual undermining of our self–esteem, self–confidence, feelings of well–being, and connection to life.

Strengths that trauma workers who are trauma survivors bring to their work:

Trauma workers who are also trauma survivors can bring enormous strengths to their work and have identified a number of strengths that they believe can enhance their working relationships with their clients:

  • Commitment – the quality of being dedicated to something/someone or to stay on course with something you agree to do
  • Compassion – having concern for the suffering of others
  • Connection – linking with a situation or another person
  • Deep empathy – ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else
  • Determination – having a firm purpose to assist
  • Engagement – making agreements to do something
  • Experience – having directly acquired skills and knowledge
  • Faith – having complete trust and confidence
  • Healing – creating processes to become sound and healthy
  • Hope – a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen
  • Inner knowing – having knowledge and awareness that only a few people have
  • Recovery – a return to a normal state of health, mind or strength
  • Resilience – being able to spring back into shape
  • Resources – having materials, people, assets that can be drawn on; abilities to support one’s self; being a source of help and information
  • Skills – specific abilities
  • Survival – being able to continue to live regardless of difficult circumstances
  • Tenacity – being able to hold onto something firmly
  • Tools – having something that helps to carry out a function
  • Understanding – being consistently able to comprehend something
  • Unique perspective – an individual view on situations and people
  • Wisdom – quality of having experience and knowledge that can be drawn upon

As one trauma worker said, we bring a ‘deep personal understanding of the wound to connection and the ongoing struggle to build connection’ and, as Joanne Fedler wrote in her novel ‘Things Without a Name,’ the protagonist, Faith, a worker in a rape crisis centre, says:

Part of my job is to receive the horror, as though it were a changeling. And hold it just because it is human and I’ve been asked to. Someone’s got to! . . . .I am doing Something Important and Useful. I am bearing witness to this injustice.

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