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.

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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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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

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

 

 

 

An Intention Toward Wellness, Self-care, and Community in the Workplace

“What could be wrong with giving myself my full attention for 15 minutes? Turns out, nothing. The very act of not working has made it possible for the hum to return, as if the hum’s engine could only refuel while I was away. Work doesn’t work without play.” – Shonda Rhimes, TED2016 

There have always been individuals at the Action Alliance who took special care to infuse our halls with magic and play, music and kindness. Some of these people took care to notice when a colleague had a particular obsession – bacon, Nintendo, chocolate crème eggs, or ceramic elephants to name a few – and offered tokens of love and appreciation in these tastes and shapes. There have always been staff who took pride in knowing the names of each other’s children and grandchildren, no matter the number, and asked each other about them with genuine curiosity. The Action Alliance has been a place where relationships are valued and we are encouraged to invest as much in each other as in the practical day to day work of the coalition. These individuals have always floated about spreading good cheer on their own and in 2013, after a particularly challenging year of change, the random encounters of positive influence became an institutionalized practice within the Action Alliance organizational culture and the Wellness Fairies were born.

care cup

credit: positivedoodles.tumblr.com

The first iteration of Wellness Fairies was a trio of staff committed to creatively bringing wellness and self-care to the office environment. Self-care may be on its way to cliché status in the grand scheme of things but it is still a revolutionary act in our work. Carving space to celebrate each other, to play and dance together, to eat good food in the company of friends is not always easy. Encouraging a diverse set of introverts, extroverts, and everything in between to get involved in games and embrace this commitment to staff wellness can be a challenge too. The Action Alliance sees the importance of these strategies nonetheless and commits staff time and financial resources to this greater purpose of supporting self-care and sustaining a culture of wellness. And for the staff who volunteer to become Wellness Fairies the challenge and the creativity becomes part of their self-care too. Designing scavenger hunts, decorating the office, organizing bubble wrap dance parties, bringing in massage therapists, and creating small gifts for every staff person are just a few of the endeavors keeping our Wellness Fairies busy each year.

friends-fingers

credit: Portland State School of Social Work

I joined the second cohort of Wellness Fairies after experiencing a year of being on the receiving end of so many awesome adventures thanks to the first cohort. I joined as a member of the Management Team to exhibit my full commitment to celebrating staff and supporting work-life balance. I joined to have fun and bring good food for my friends. Ahhh, the food. So much good food has been part of the Wellness Fairies events that we even released a staff cookbook highlighting recipes that had been shared at potlucks. We are potluck goddesses at the Action Alliance. Sharing food is a quick way to share a bit of one’s self, one’s history, and one’s desires. Sharing food builds resilience and relationships. Building resilience and relationships ensures that our team has what it needs to show up every day in this space – talking about trauma, working on tight deadlines, answering the Hotline, navigating dicey political environments.

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credit: Quillin Drew

Some suggest that if it is not hurting, if you are not stretched to the point of pain, then you must not be working hard enough. That may be a fine assessment of the gym, but that is not the environment where I want to spend my energy during my career. Non-profits are often limited in the resources available to support staff retention and sometimes do not have access to the most enticing salaries or most robust benefits packages. The Action Alliance has made commitments to pay living wages and to offer other regular benefits. We make staff development opportunities available because whether someone has been here 20 years or 5 minutes, we all have more to learn. And we use out of the box tools like the Wellness Fairies to create a workspace where people feel supported, loved, valued, and able to have fun while digging into the very hard work we do each day. The Wellness Fairies are a strategy for helping some of us get through the day and helping all of us stay in the movement to end violence a bit longer. The Wellness Fairies are a vaccine and an antidote – this organizational practice inoculates us from certain despair and cures us when the pressures of life and work become too great. Now in the third year and with a new set of fairies at the helm, the practice of cultivating wellness continues, the potlucks continue, the celebrations continue, and we are able to continue.

If you would like to learn more about how you can incorporate an organizational wellness practice like this on a shoestring budget, we will be glad to help you think it through. Get in touch with us!

Quillin Drew Musgrave is a Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance, a Board member of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and operates Harrison Street Café with their partner. Quillin is learning to engage the world from a place of connection and gratitude and gets great joy from seeing their child, StaggerLee, learn to navigate life as a four-year old.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

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