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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How to avoid developing PTSD

Saturday, June 20, 2015
Image credit: Kitsune via MorguefileAs humans, we’re affected by the feelings of people around us; so trauma, whether experienced directly or witnessed, can have a powerfully debilitating effect on your psyche. Witnessing trauma over and over again can have a cumulative effect, manifesting in disrupted relationships, eroding your health, and reducing your ability to witness more suffering.

Counselling and psychology practitioners know well the effects of listening to stories of distress over and over and over again – so debriefing and supervision is a compulsory aspect of our practice, to ensure that the effects of that vicarious trauma don’t overwhelm us or impact on how we look after others.

But somehow we expect our emergency workers (from the people who keep our community safe to health practitioners like doctors and nurses, to those who pull us from burning buildings and mangled cars, even those who bury our dead) to be immune to the impact of being present in distressing events. That unlike the rest of us they have the ability to ‘just get on with it’.

Imagine experiencing the strong emotions of anger, sadness, disgust, grief and guilt every work day. Now imagine having no way to process what you’re experiencing and sensing that your work place culture suggests you just toughen up. A culture that celebrates resilience yet often fails to adequately address the effects of trauma. No wonder so many helpers fall prey to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) losing their careers and their relationships. 

If you witness trauma in your field and feel affected by it, what can hold you back from seeking help? Some new arrivals to counselling express feelings of shame at needing help. After all, their co-workers seem to be coping; no-one else seems to need counselling. (Tip: They might be utilising some very unhelpful coping strategies, like alcohol. Or they might be suffering too, silently.)

The process of counselling provides a way to process the impact of what you experienced. You can talk through your feelings and be listened to attentively, without judgement or expectations. Get help to develop strategies for managing your feelings and the impact your work has on your relationships.  This isn’t a process you can rush, each moves through at their pace. It’s not compulsory to revisit the event.

If you suspect that your exposure to trauma in your work is impacting your sense of well-being and your relationships, why not call for help? Because this could be the way to support you in doing the work you love; looking after people in their time of need.

Image credit: Kitsune (via MorgueFile)

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy reading "Who's on your team", here

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