We can retain our hope, energy and commitment to our work by addressing VT both through what we do at home and at work. Our most powerful response is vicarious transformation, through which our work helps us grow and become better people.
- Become aware- utilize all sources information to notice VT, including your body, your thoughts, your emotions. Where do you first notice stress? Are you sleeping, well or dreaming of work? Does your body ache? Are you more irritable than usual? Do you feel too depleted to respond to your own loved ones? Do you find yourself thinking cynical thoughts such as “these clients never change.” Are others telling you that you seem unlike yourself?
- Seek a balance between work and the rest of your life. Balance is important and difficult to achieve, because the demands of the work are infinite. There is always something more we can do, and it would probably help. We have to set limits and support each other in doing so. The best way to do this is to have things outside of work that are important to us, such as relationships and activities that matter, so that we will not be sucked up by the work.
- Find connection outside of work- with people, with community, with spirituality. Meaningful connections draw use towards activities that replenish our hope.
- Participate in activities that you enjoy, that bring you health, pleasure and escape. Read, garden, play music, be with pets, make love, travel, watch movies (and try to find ones that aren’t about child abuse), drink some wine, play sports, watch tv, make something. Make sure you do whatever you love, even when (or especially when) you feel tired and depleted from work.
It is no longer acceptable for agencies to over-use and badly treat their workers, then suggest that they get themselves a massage on the weekend to address VT. The agency can do a lot to prevent and heal VT, and it makes economic sense for them to do so.
- Foster a culture where there’s permission to discuss VT.
- Embed attention to VT in the workings of organization through regular retreats or forums.
- Provide adequate supervision in which the supervisor asks about the effect of the work on the employee
- Provide Regularly Scheduled VT Groups. Rather than gathering people only after a crisis, a regularly scheduled group sends the message that this is an ongoing aspect of our work that we need to address.
- Celebration and Recognition of Success. These celebrations can include: monthly commendations for staff who demonstrate excellence or go above and beyond; invitation to lunch with CEO for recognized staff; annual staff appreciation event; holiday parties; client/staff day; unexpected thank you or recognition emails.
Resilience and Transformation
Resilience is successful adaptation in face of biological challenges and stressful life events. (adapted from Werner, 1992)
Resilience pertains to these qualities
How you bounce back
How you endure in face of challenge – sometimes called “grit” or “stick-to-it-ness”
How you learn from, make meaning out of challenge –even become better as the result of challenge. The new term for this is post-traumatic growth.
(Devereux Center for Resilient Children, Devereux Foundation)
When humans face painful situations, we survive through making meaning, through transfomring the pain into growth. Vicarious transformation (term coined by Dr. Laurie Pearlman) refers to the positive changes in the helper which come about through empathetic engagement with traumatized people and active engagement with the changes in ourselves.
Dr. Pearlman stresses that in order to experience this growth, it is necessary that we turn towards the suffering we see. We of course want to deny it, to diminish it, to turn away, We convince ourselves that this could never happen to us. But when we are receptive, it is easier to care, and to enter into a genuine reciprocal relationship with our clients. Just as we feel their pain more acutely, we appreciate their strengths more directly. We experience the human potential in a deeply heartfelt way.
Dr. Pearlman recommends some techniques that can help us maximize the potential for vicarious transformation. These include receiving psychotherapy, journaling, yoga, meditating, praying, symbolizing our experiences creatively, and befriending emotion.
And just as trauma is best healed through connection, vicarious trauma is healed within strong connections both in the workplace and in one’s personal life.
Grief wounds more deeply in solitude; tears are less bitter when mingled with other tears.
There is a privilege working with people on the edge of life. The view from the edge of life is so much clearer.
Rachel Naomi Remen, 2006
Would you like an exercise which will help a team recover from VT experiences which have torn them apart? Click here to get this free tool:
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