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Section 8
Disrupted Frame of Reference

Question 8 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents


The hallmark of vicarious traumatization is disrupted frame of reference. One’s identity, world view, and spirituality together constitute frame of reference. As a result of doing trauma work with battering relationships, therapists are likely to experience disruptions in their sense of identity (sense of one’s self as a woman/man, as mother/father or one’s customary feeling states), world view (moral principles, ideas about causality, life philosophy), and spirituality (meaning and hope, sense of connection with something beyond oneself, awareness of all aspects of life, and sense of the non-material).

What antidotes can we create to these disruptions? Balancing work, play, and rest helps us to remain grounded in various aspects of our complex identities. Practices that renew a cherished sense of identity or that expand one’s identity beyond that of trauma therapist are helpful in this realm. This might mean socializing with friends and family to reconnect with one’s self as friend, parent, child, partner, or sibling (the activity that ranked second most helpful in the study shown in Table 1); engaging activities that allow one to be in a dependent or receiving role; engaging in creative endeavors such as writing, playing music, creating art, gardening, being physically active through exercise, dance, or hard physical work; reconnecting with one’s body through massage, dance, or yoga. Each of these activities in its own way balances some aspect of the helper/listener/nurturer roles we play in our work as therapists.

TA B L E 1: . Professional and personal self-care for 117 psychologists.

Mean ratings of how helpful 117 psychologists found those activities in which they engaged over the past six months
(1 = not helpful, 6 = extremely helpful):

Activity
Mean
Took vacation4.60
Social activities4.34
Emotional support from colleagues4.21
Pleasure reading4.10
Sought consultation on difficult cases4.06
Read relevant professional literature3.91
Took breaks during workday3.88
Emotional support from friends or family3.83
Spent time with children3.78
Listened to music3.70
Spent time in nature3.67
Attended workshop or conference3.59
Aerobic exercise3.00
Attempted to monitor or diversify case load2.87
Community involvement2.14
Relaxation exercises2.04
Gardening1.86
Artistic expression1.51
Spiritual practice1.29
Personal psychotherapy1.17
Massage or bodywork.95
Meditation.88
Journal writing.56
Yoga.52

In the trauma therapist example, at least one-third of respondents found the following strategies helpful in coping with the demands of domestic violence therapy: socializing, exercising, spending time with family (Table 2). Activities that ranked lower, although still endorsed by many as helpful, were engaging in social justice activities and having a massage. Over 35% of subjects reported engaging in activities that promoted physical health and well-being as a coping strategy.

Rest and leisure are extremely restorative to one’s frame of reference as well as to one’s self-capacities. Taking a vacation and pleasure reading ranked first and fourth, respectively, as activities psychologists found helpful in alleviating work-related stress. Over 35% of subjects reported engaging in leisure activities such as gardening, reading, listening to music, and going to movies as ways of coping with work-related stress.

World view, another aspect of frame of reference, is also very sensitive to both psychological trauma and to helping trauma survivors. We can attempt to rebuild these shattered assumptions by spending time with happy, healthy children; working for social justice; and building or rebuilding a sense of community. Sixty-nine percent of our sample found travel helpful; in a very literal sense, travel expands our world view.

Finally, spirituality is highly sensitive to the effects of trauma and trauma recovery work. We use a broad definition of spirituality, an inherent human capacity for an awareness of an elusive aspect of experience. Approaches to addressing the spiritual damage that this work can incur include meditation, yoga, writing in a journal, engagement with art and beauty (nature and poetry). Forty-four percent of the trauma therapist sample found developing a spiritual life helpful in coping with the demands of trauma therapy. Although these activities were not rated as very helpful for most respondents in the sample, we note them here because some people do report using them and finding them helpful. Larger percentages of the subjects reported engaging in spiritually-oriented activities, but we do not know how helpful they found them.

Finding forums in which to recall and name the rewards of doing trauma therapy is essential. It renews our sense of the meaning of this work, revitalizes our connections with others and with humanity itself, and reminds us of the importance of an awareness of all aspects of life.

TA B L E 2: Activities balancing trauma work for 188 trauma therapists.

Activity
% performing on regular basis
% finding it helpful
Discussed cases with colleagues
87
85
Attended workshops
84
76
Spent time with family or friends
95
70
Travel, vacation, hobbies, movies
90
70
Talked with colleagues between sessions
74
69
Socialized
88
64
Exercised
73
62
Limited case load
62
56
Developed spiritual life
53
44
Received general supervision
56
44
Taught
48
43
Gave supervision
58
36
Performed community service
53
31
Had bodywork/massage
30
39
Wrote
44
28
Wrote in a journal
27
25
Engaged in social justice work
29
22
Conducted research
35
21
Referred out clients who might activate therapist’s issues
23
20
Engaged in administration
40
16


Personal Reflection Exercise Explanation
The Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues. Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience. Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education, occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health, home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be approximately 150 words in length. However, since the content of these “Personal Reflection” Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a “work in progress.” You will not be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.

Personal Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section was about a therapist’s disrupted frame of reference and vicarious traumatization. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

QUESTION 8
What is the hallmark of vicarious traumatization? To select and enter your answer go to Answer Booklet.


Answer Booklet
Section 9
Table of Contents
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