VT and Culture

Young Hawaiian womanWhat is the role of culture in staff willingness and comfort with discussing VT. Cultural rules such as not sharing one’s feelings, trying not to stand out or be noticed at all, and never complaining are hard to overcome when trying to discuss the effects of the work on the person. As one person in Hawaii said: “Why should I squeak? I don’t see anyone else around here squeaking and they are all working as hard as I am. Better to just keep on going.” A therapist stated: “If the staff see the therapist being affected by the work, what are they going to do? As the therapist I am expected to be able to handle my emotions.

Many of us have one form or another of these beliefs, and our agencies take advantage of this. We just keep doing wore and more, and not complaining, taking pride in how much we can do. When we urge supervisors to model talking about their feelings, they were afraid this would be scary to their staff, who rely on their strength. How can we encourage sharing the way the work effects us without feeling we are showing weakness, scaring our staff and betraying our culture?

Supervisors report that staff constantly talk about their feelings, both on the job and afterwards. And their feelings were anger at a certain kid, hopelessness about another, complaints about management, discouragement about the system, and general pessimism.

What is the difference is between sharing VT and a complaint session? Everyone has had the experience of negative complaint session that spirals downward and leaves everyone feeling worse. What is the difference between that and a productive sharing of the effect of the work on us?

A Healthy Discussion of VT

1. A willingness to look at ones’ self and the role of one’s own history in the emotions.

2. A spirit of compassion towards the clients and an understanding that their symptoms are adaptive, and that our feelings are not their fault.

3. An acknowledgment that VT is an inevitable part of our work, as we share the pain our clients’ experience

4. Looking towards positive action: how can we take better care of ourselves and each other? What can we do to make our workplace more sustaining?

5. Understand that the pain of our work is also the source of our growth and change as people

6. A consideration of possibilities for transforming the pain.

There are times when one just needs to complain. But the addition of these elements could help to turn the conversation into a healing experience.

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