Saturday, June 9, 2007

vicarious traumatization

...also known as "secondary trauma." It's the name of that thing that happens to rescue workers, social workers, disaster relief, doctors, anyone who's witnessed (witness= any kind of feeling/seeing) someone else's "primary trauma." It's maybe a new kind of term that was probably attached to PTSD especially given the close association of PTSD to war veterans (I can't think of any more traumatic experience):

PTSD in and of itself is a relatively recent diagnosis in psychiatric nosology, first appearing in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980. It has been said that development of the PTSD concept has, in part, socio-economic and political implications (Mezey & Robbins 2001). War veterans are the most publicly-recognized victims of PTSD; long-term psychiatric illness was formally observed in World War I veterans. The syndrome entered wide public consciousness after the Vietnam War. PTSD patients had difficulties receiving veterans' disability benefits because there was no psychiatric diagnosis available by which veterans could claim indemnity. This situation has changed during the last two decades and PTSD is now one of several psychiatric diagnoses for which a veteran can receive compensation, such as a war veteran indemnity pension, in the U.S. (see below: Mezey & Robbins 2001)

Google searches of "vicarious traumatization" yield pretty simplistic evaluations: social workers (etc.) sometimes suffer from a bit of PTSD. They should find ways to alleviate stress. Seriously, it was almost an Oprah-esque thing: take a soothing bath, get plenty of rest, light a scented candle. Fuck off.

After over a week of, frankly, feeling like a giant pussy for having such a severe reaction to a situation that is not entirely foreign to me, I feel the need to figure it out. Really, until yesterday, I thought that my fear/anger/sadness was a sign of weakness that indicates my inability to be professional and keep work separate from my own urges for drama. BUT, I also found that I couldn't talk myself out of it, that I was having floods of feelings that I have learned to keep at bay very well. The day of the final showdown, I was a complete wreck. I couldn't stop it. I simply could not pull myself together-- what a scary place for me! I have been there before and never wanted to be there again. The moment I realized that it wasn't just a self-serving drama surge was when I opened our office door, saw my co-worker holding the baby, burst into tears and grabbed him. I sat and sobbed into his neck-- like a giant pussy, yes, but right at that second, I knew it wasn't about ME (even in my own mind). It really was about him.

And so, since that day, I've thought about secondary trauma and how pervasive it is-- and also how our minds are so terrifically tangled and complex that some of us can shut off for some things-- others for other things, but in the end, I wonder if we don't all have a little PTSD. It took me weeks after Sept 11 to figure out why I was so uncomfortable, why I cried so much and was so inexplicably scared-- the scared that's in one's bones--terror, I guess. And I don't say all of this without knowing the enormity of the world and the billions of people who have faced or currently face far uglier things than I have seen. I want to write about this, but I drop the ball when I look at the story I have to tell and the million and one other bigger, maybe more important ones that need to be told.

The urge to share such a profoundly shattering experience is consuming. And yet it's the story that's told over and over. The Super Sleuth and I are now tracking down another child abuse case that's coming through an old client of mine. This time, mom was found passed out on her bed and the baby was on the floor between the bed and the wall. The girl who found the baby fed her and changed her and left. She didn't want to be busted for drugs if she reported the incident. It goes on and on and on.

See the picture at the top. It's the baby who was found between the bed and the wall.


Sarah said...

Was that former client C?

pea in a pod said...

Yeah, it's MY former client C-- did WE have a client C? Dude, I need you back so we can sort out the drama!

pea in a pod said...

Honey. Wish I were there with you. Today I was wondering how difficult it would be to fund and manage a renegade rescue network for abused kids. I started thinking of people I would approach in my fundraising efforts, etc.

Let me know what you need, missing you madly,