Are You Governed by Your Intake Form?

How did you learn your technique for interviewing?  Did it come naturally, did you learn it from an experienced mentor, or did you stumble into it, making it up as you went along?  I remember when I was a law student, interviewing my first clients in a legal aid clinic, I was petrified that I would “miss” something, so my interviews were epic, two-hour-long ordeals. It never occurred to me until years later that I was probably re-traumatizing clients by marching inexorably through my exhaustive list of questions, crossing the line from interview to interrogation. Yes, I got what I “needed” to fill out the forms, but was there a better way?

If your job description includes interviewing trauma victims in order to obtain critical details, you need to know how to sensitively ask for information in a way that does not re-traumatize the victim AND that gets you the essential facts you need to do your job. What are best practices for working with a client whose responses to trauma may vary?  I have come up with tools and techniques that help to resolve that conflict between relentless pursuit of the facts of the case on one hand and an understanding of the needs of the traumatized client on the other hand.

The Action Alliance’s conference, Trauma-Informed Approaches to Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence (May 4-5, 2016, in Charlottesville https://heartisamuscle.wordpress.com/ ) will include a workshop I developed to help professionals and volunteers identify the best techniques for working with traumatized victims in an interview. Whether we are social workers, shelter staff, attorneys, law enforcement or medical professionals, we need to fill out intake sheets and learn about the facts surrounding the victimization so we can offer tailored service, advice and referrals.

pixabay free image of intake form

photo credit: Pixabay

But what if our own interviewing has unwittingly become part of a long process of victimization? It is possible to consciously equip ourselves for those interviews with specific tools for working with a traumatized person.  You can learn how to create an atmosphere of safety and security; which techniques work best with angry, combative, fearful or disoriented victims; and what to do at the end of interviews to help the victim with next steps. Have you ever wondered how you could best work through an interpreter, handle sensitive issues regarding sex and drugs, or prepare for the next steps in the victim’s journey? And just as important as our awareness of the potential of re-traumatizing the victim is the critical but often overlooked topic of the interviewer’s self-care and vicarious trauma.

When you attend the workshop, you will learn:

  1. The three essential techniques for conducting an interview with a traumatized client
  2. How to set up your office or work space with a victim of trauma in mind;
  3. How language you employ in interviewing can hurt or heal; and
  4. The healing power of choice for a traumatized interviewee.

Ann H. Kloeckner, Esq., Executive Director of Rappahannock Legal Services, has spent over 30 years working with survivors of intimate partner violence.

The Heart is a Muscle: Trauma-Informed Approaches to Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Conference will be held May 4-5, 2016 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Find keynote and workshop descriptions hereRegister here.

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To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

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