Saturday, May 27, 2006

They Are Us

Last week I was honored to do a Risking Connection (RC) training with one of the original authors of the curriculum, Laurie Ann Pearlman, Ph.D. Laurie is an internationally known expert in trauma and vicarious traumatization, and her book: Trauma and the Therapist: Countertransference and Vicarious Traumatization in Psychotherapy With Incest Survivors written with Karen W. Saakvitne, Ph.D. (another Risking Connection author) contains the theory behind the RC curriculum and elaborates the content. (
Laurie also works in Rwanda helping to heal the trauma caused by genocide in that country, and details of her work there can be found at:

Laurie speaks eloquently on the subject of vicarious traumatization, an inevitable result of doing treatment with trauma survivors with an open heart. VT is defined as the negative changes in us that occur over time as a result of doing this work. RC emphasizes awareness of VT, and that the practitioner has an ethical imperative to monitor and address VT symptoms in his/herself in order to maintain hope and connection for the clients.

As Laurie spoke of what we can do to minimize and heal VT in ourselves I was struck in a new way that what we need is exactly what we are saying our clients need. Treaters need respect- the audience responded so powerfully to the acknowledgement of the effect the work has on them. We need information- that VT is inevitable, it is normal, it is not our fault or the fault of the client, that it can be minimized, addressed and transformed. Information is also important because when we have a theoretical treatment approach, a map, a strategy, we do not feel as lost and overwhelmed. We need connection- to have a community at work and at home that we can talk to, with whom we can share the pain and the triumphs, and who will not judge us. And we need hope- to know that abuse survivors do heal, and treaters do endure and in fact grow and thrive in the profession.

Suppose I suggested that as agency staff we would benefit from a reward system that gave us extra privileges (later bedtimes, more status) whenever we addressed our VT pain. The system would also punish us by banishment and restriction when the pain over came us and we did a VT behavior such as over-eating, or zoning out in front of the TV, or being less than responsive to a client. Maybe there would be some short-term gain in such a system. But do any of us feel that would be the most powerful way to help us overcome our vicarious traumatization?

We know so deeply what we need, and what we respond to. Why is it so hard to imagine that our clients need exactly these same things?

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