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Frame of Reference
The hallmark of vicarious traumatization is disrupted frame of reference.
Ones 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 ones
self as a woman/man, as mother/father or ones 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).
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 ones identity beyond
that of trauma therapist are helpful in this realm. This might mean socializing
with friends and family to reconnect with ones 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 ones 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
(1 = not helpful, 6 = extremely helpful):
support from colleagues||4.21|
on difficult cases||4.06|
relevant professional literature||3.91|
breaks during workday||3.88|
support from friends or family||3.83|
time with children||3.78|
|Spent time in nature||3.67|
workshop or conference||3.59|
|Attempted to monitor
or diversify case load||2.87|
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.
and leisure are extremely restorative to ones frame of reference as
well as to ones 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.
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.
B L E 2: Activities balancing trauma work for 188 trauma therapists.
performing on regular basis
% finding it helpful
cases with colleagues |
time with family or friends|
vacation, hobbies, movies|
with colleagues between sessions |
in a journal|
in social justice work|
out clients who might activate therapists issues|
Personal Reflection Exercise Explanation
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.
Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section was about a therapists
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.
What is the hallmark of vicarious traumatization? To select and
enter your answer go to .