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SPECIAL EDITION: NEWS on Coping With Trauma

Trauma from a disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katerina is felt from Alabama to Alaska. Homes blown away, people wading in fetid water, and no food and water creates overwhelming trauma for the individual. But those who help and manage are also impacted. Secondary Trauma is that experienced often by aid workers and volunteers working directly with victims of the disaster. Vicarious trauma can be experienced by those managing the work of responders and volunteers. Information on these pages can help the volunteer manager identify symptoms in themselves and others and offers suggestions on how to help people avoid emotional collapse.

Return to Katrina Resources page for more links to information


Anne Allevato of Ontario, Canada is helping Volunteer Today find information on coping with the trauma associated with the after effects of the disaster in the Gulf Coast. She located the following articles to share with those managing volunteers.

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Vicarious Trauma

This short article is based on the information in a journal article titled "Preventing Vicarious Trauma: What Counselors Should Know When Working With Trauma Survivors." That article is in PDF format for downloading, click on the link at the end of this article. The author of this piece has suggested specific pages to expand on the brief information provided in the shorter article. Page references are included in the text.

"Vicarious Trauma" is the term used in this article to describe what others have called survivor's trauma or secondary trauma. Volunteers and the people who manage their work may need some assistance as they work in the trenches with the trauma victims. Page 33 of this article talks about "safety needs" and "trust needs." These are likely to be two major issues for people working with the survivors of Katrina. If they are from the costal south (especially) they may be feeling very vulnerable. Some people helping the trauma survivors may be wondering about the ability of the government to respond in a speedy and efficient manner to keep people safe.

As the article states, starting on page 34, there are many things people can and SHOULD do to ensure they do not experience "vicarious trauma." They should not OVERDO. Social workers and others in helping professions are especially terrible for wanting to do more than everyone else. Volunteers should do a small but consistent part to help and remember they are no good to ANYONE if they develop "vicarious trauma" symptoms.

Volunteers and their managers should seek support of other volunteers or other managers of volunteers. They should be talking with each other about their experiences. This is not a waste of time. It is imperative for people working with trauma and it should be seen as part of the helping process. This peer support could come in the form of a group meeting after a task is accomplished or on the Internet in a chat room. (Visit Volunteer Today's VT Relief Group page to sign up for Yahoo groups where managers of volunteers can talk about your experience with others.) Peer support is important.

Many agencies like the Red Cross are distributing information about trauma survival. People are coming forward with a willing heart to help, but many have no idea what it is like to sit with a trauma survivor and hear their stories. They need to be educated on what to expect. This information is on page 35 of the article.

Like all other disasters people ask, "Where is God in all of this?" Volunteers and their managers should continue to participate in their spiritual activities. The article says, "Research indicates that counselors with a 'larger' sense of meaning and connection" are less likely to experience "vicarious trauma….." So you can see that staying connected spiritually is essential for volunteers and their managers. It is not a waste of time to participate in spiritual activities. It should be seen as part of the process of helping others.

Submitted by: Bonnie KM Holiday, MSW, in Michigan

To view the whole article, "Preventing Vicarious Trauma: What Counsellors Should Know When Working with Trauma Survivors" click here.
For more information on vicarious trauma, "Vicarious Traumatisation of Counsellors and Effects on their Workplaces" click here.


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