Monday, May 18, 2009

Experiencing work related trauma

My friend and the school social worker noted in our staffing team meeting today that we have not perhaps spent enough time this year debriefing our traumas. Trauma seems like such a significant word with so much heaviness to it. Trauma is the word I attribute to the children who are severely abused in various ways, experience extreme violence, house fires and other major horrific events. But she is right, we as the professionals have repeatedly been subjected to trauma throughout this year.

In this year, I have been attacked physically more than I ever was working in residential. I've been verbally accosted by kids and parents. I have played a role in supporting initial disclosures and treatment of significant sexual and physical abuse and other trauma with many children on my case load this year. I know two families that have lost all their possessions to house fires. I know at least five (maybe more) families that have lost a close family member to gun violence in the past six months. I have been threatened by a colleague I should be collaborating with, who instead made me feel like she wanted me removed from my job. And as egotistical as it may sound, I did not in any way deserve to be removed or threatened in such a manner. I am good at what I do. You have to engage with this woman and see how she operates and communicates with others to understand the stress she caused for not only me, but many teachers and other staff.

The school has functioned this year in a constant state of crisis, only worsening as the year progresses towards the end. The cycle of each school year always makes things challenging in the late spring, last months of the semester. But with the closure of the school and lack of a cohesive team or school, it has been much worse this year. Going from one crisis to another, we have had no time to really debrief as one should when there has been a major trauma. The lack of a team as compared to what was in place at the school last year has left me often feeling very isolated, with only the support of the school social worker. I think if we didn't have at least some moments with each other to vent (they are hard to get sometimes because we are so busy), I would have had an even greater struggle. In addition to the increased professional isolation within the school, my position is one that I am left to be very autonomous. Although I like this in many ways, I do not have the supervision and clinical support that I have come to realize all social workers need, regardless of skill level.

The scariest part is I started to believe, this is just the path I have chosen. This is what I am supposed to be able to handle each day. If I can't handle all the abuse, maybe I'm not as good of a social worker as I thought I was.

I know these thoughts are incorrect. I know I deserve a reasonably healthy working environment, despite the high needs of a population I may work with. I know I deserve to work among a supportive and collaborative team. I've had it before, and I think we as individuals do our jobs better when there is collaboration and support from those around us. I just hope I can attain some sense of that next year . . .

Did I mention the nine days? Actually, it is eight with Memorial Day holiday. Sweet.

On a lighter note- a parent actually picked their child up on the family's horse today. This is an urban neighborhood, y'all. At least there are those moments to shake your head and laugh about.


SocialWkr24/7 said...

Ah the joys of vicarious trauma. Yes, its part of the job - but the most important thing is to recognize when you are suffering from it and get the help you you can keep on helping others! Hope the end of the school years comes just in time!

Lisa said...

I don't think it is vicarious. What I was speaking to is the actual emotional trauma that I (we) do experience as part of the job. Being hit and threatened with death isn't vicarious, though. It's real trauma experienced by myself and others in this school. Those need to be approached and supported differently than traumas experienced by clients themselves.

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