10 Secrets of Healthy Trauma Organizations

Olga Phoenix is presenting at the THE HEART IS A MUSCLE: TRAUMA-INFORMED APPROACHES TO SEXUAL & INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE MAY 4-5, 2016 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Vicarious trauma is a profound negative psychological change  produced in  “helping” professions as a result of exposure to traumatic material of their clients. Continuous exposure to trauma of others may lead helping professionals to manifest the same or similar symptoms as victims they work with. In other words, symptoms of vicarious trauma are essentially the same as symptoms of primary trauma, and include re‐experience, avoidance, and hyper‐arousal.

Untreated, vicarious trauma leads to severe emotional and physical exhaustion,  deep sense of ineffectiveness at one’s work; and can result in emotional distress, detachment, ineffective professional behavior, and depression. Helpers who are worn out, traumatized, and fatigued, often tend to work harder, thus going farther down a dangerous path, which often leads to physical and mental health difficulties, such as chronic pain, clinical depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Self-Care-Wheel-English-232x300

Self-Care Wheel – courtesy Olga Phoenix website

Leadership, including Boards of Directors, has primary ethical responsibility for creating environments which promote and support organizational and individual vicarious trauma prevention. While personal efforts are important, individual health can still be compromised in contexts where people are denied the opportunity to make use of these skills and knowledge. The most effective way to address and prevent vicarious trauma is through sound organizational processes.

Here are some ways healthy trauma organizations promote thriving environments for their staff:

  1. Provide sufficient training for every member of their team on vicarious trauma, its symptoms, effects, and tools to address and prevent it.
  2. Assure staff that vicarious trauma symptoms are a completely normal reaction to trauma work and encourage them to seek help.
  3. Establish organizational systems of care for staff who disclose or present with vicarious trauma symptoms.
  4. Provide adequate training in trauma-specific and trauma-informed outreach, intake, and service delivery strategies, to increase staff sense of effectiveness in helping clients and reduce the sense of demoralization brought on by trauma work.
  5. Establish a diverse caseload of clients in order to limit the traumatic exposure of any one worker.
  6. Create work environments which facilitate staff bonding and emotional support of each other, as this limits emotional fatigue and depersonalization, and creates a greater sense of personal accomplishment (e.g.: a vicarious trauma prevention/aka “We Thrive” support group).
  7. Institute regular relationally based clinical supervision to normalize staff feelings and experiences and provide support and tools to address and prevent vicarious trauma.
  8. Provide safe and comfortable space for staff to engage in their personal vicarious trauma prevention activities during the work day (e.g.: therapy, 12 step meetings, meditation, long lunch with support group).
  9. Nurture a culture of shared power in making organizational decisions, empower a sense of autonomy in staff-as trust, empowerment, and self-efficacy are the antidotes to a sense of powerlessness associated with vicarious trauma.
  10. As an organization, continuously planning and taking steps towards improving their organizational health and practices.

Would any of these work for your trauma organization? What are your organizational secrets you can share with us? For more on this, please visit www.olgaphoenix.com or see “Victim Advocate’s Guide to Wellness: Six Dimensions of Vicarious Trauma-Free Life” book by Olga Phoenix, MPA, MA.

Olga Phoenix, MPA, MA is an internationally recognized expert and speaker on the topics of Vicarious Trauma, Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Trauma-Informed Services, as well as personal and organizational cultures of Sustainability, Self-Care, and Wellness. Through her books, trainings, webinars, and keynotes Olga helped thousands of victim advocates, therapists, substance abuse counselors, law enforcement, criminal justice and medical professionals to find their way to full and thriving life, free of vicarious trauma.

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