Second-Hand Shock: Shed the Shame!

© 2011 By Vicki Carpel Miller, BSM, MS, LMFT, Ellie Izzo, PhD, LPC, and Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Guest Bloggers: 

Vicki Carpel Miller & Ellie Izzo

Authors of new release from HCI Press:

Second-Hand Shock:  Surviving & Overcoming Vicarious Trauma

Our heroes and helpers have recently been called to respond to the horrific shootings in Tucson and the bombing in the Moscow airport. In truth, every citizen has been affected by these events simply by watching and hearing about them in the news media. We hear all about the victims and their traumatizing experience, but do we even wonder how the helpers are doing? How are they being affected? How are they coping?

Each and every day, some traumatic event or events occur that require the intervention of our professional helpers. Hard work and dedication take a heavy toll on the helper and while stress management is helpful, Second-Hand Shock goes beyond typical stress. The cost of helping others cannot be assessed by the naked eye; perhaps that is why there is so little being done about it.

Even though helping professionals are well-trained and complete continuing education on a regular basis, we fear that they remain unconscious and uneducated about the signs and symptoms associated with Vicarious Trauma or as we call it, Second-Hand Shock. Intrusive imagery, cynicism, poor memory, isolation, volatile moods, irrational fears, hyper-vigilance, lack of spiritedness and physical problems are noticed but frequently disregarded or attributed to other better known diagnoses.

How many times do helping professionals get asked, “How do you do this all day every day?” If you think about it, it really isn’t strange to anyone that listening to trauma stories every day takes a toll on emotional, physical and spiritual well being. Because of the lack of professional support in this area, many helpers feel ashamed or afraid to assert that they are suffering. They fear repercussions from their licensing boards, their supervisors, their colleagues and their clients. So they suffer in silence, feeling ashamed and incompetent in their work.

We believe that experiencing trauma through helping is now frequently occurring; particularly in a culture that seems to be ever more violent. The welfare of the helping professional needs to be considered with the same level of compassion that is given to the victims of traumatizing events. Professional helpers often get blamed in very shaming and punitive ways for their stress responses rather than being encouraged to see Second-Hand Shock or Vicarious Trauma as a natural response to the difficult work that helping professionals do. We encourage all helpers to join together and create a social movement that acknowledges and empathically addresses this occupational hazard.

~Vicki & Ellie

Comments by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

“Second hand shock” affects all of us – professionals and often family and friends. When we see and have to deal with trauma – and this seems to be increasing with each day’s news – it affects us in ways we often don’t realize. But problems grow under the surface. I really appreciate the insight and sensitivity expressed in Vicki and Ellie’s book, Second Hand Shock: Surviving and Overcoming Vicarious Trauma.

For the past ten years, I have focused on dealing with high conflict people – the ones who easily get angry, blame a lot, and often increase conflict at work, at home and in the court system. This stresses everyone who deals with them, as high conflict people can’t stop themselves. Yet when professionals deal with them over time, they often get burned out, emotionally hooked and angry at everyone around them – even the other reasonable people and other professionals trying to help. It’s an occupational hazard for those who work with today’s families and the stresses and strains upon them.

Counselors, in particular, try to help victims of trauma work through their pain, memories and anger – day after day, week after week. This exposure to the deep emotions of their clients can cause emotional wear and tear on themselves that they don’t even recognize. After all, therapists are supposed to be the strong ones, helping victims recover. But counselors and all caregivers need attention and healing to stay strong. There may be special victims in today’s world, but to really help them we need to realize we are all in this together. We all absorb each other’s trauma to some extent. Thanks to Ellie and Vicki, this problem is being talked about, can be understood, and can be treated.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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