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Survivors as employees

Survivors as employees

Survivors as employees

Given that one in four women will experience family violence in their lifetime, it’s not unusual that  sectors made up predominately of women (for example, community, health and human services) will have a number of workers who may survived family violence, and/or may also be experiencing it now.

This section provides support for workers who are also survivors – how they can use their personal experience as a strength when working with clients and how they can manage potential triggers in response to experiences of trauma.

“That was a long time ago – I’ve dealt with it”                                                                                                    

Even if you’ve gone to counselling and worked through your experiences you may find that some aspects of a client’s story reminds or triggers emotions from your own situation. This is a normal response and need not impact on your ability to work with survivors of family violence – provided you have your own plan for self care and support. This means paying attention to and attending to those emotions, memories and thoughts if they come up. Ignoring and suppressing them will only increase their intensity and impact on you.

“What if I’ve gone through the same experience as my client? Can I tell them I understand what they are going through?”

Sharing your personal story with the intention to support a client is not considered best practice for a couple of reasons:

  • It can shift the focus of the conversation and support away from your client.
  • It can blur the professional boundaries and confuse the limits and purpose of your role with your client.
  • Your client might compare their experience with yours and this could result in a number of negative outcomes, for example your client may conclude that their experience is ‘not as bad as yours’.
  • It may set up expectations that only a worker who has ‘gone through it’, can be truly supportive.

There are other ways, however, to channel your personal experience in positive impacts for both the client and yourself:

  • Ensure that you have addressed any areas of trauma so that you are clear on your triggers. Develop a support and self care plan and make a personal commitment that you will access support if you need to.
  • When speaking to your client, use the third person i.e. “Many women I’ve spoken to have told me that  . . . . .” or “From what I understand from other women it can be very confusing to make sense of what has happened . . . .”

“How can I manage triggers?”

When you respond to other people’s experiences of trauma, you can sometimes become “triggered”. This is a biological and emotional response to memories of trauma and distress. There may be a number of difference signs that you notice including anxiety, feeling scared, panic, sadness, crying, anger, sleep disturbance, your heart racing, headache, withdrawing and wanting to leave where you are.  It may not be immediately evident why you’ve been triggered.

Strategies to manage triggers:

  • Recognise that you are being triggered and give yourself permission to look after yourself immediately. This may mean removing yourself from the context of the trigger if possible, using tools to regulate your breathing, and enacting your self-care plan e.g. finding a quiet place to sit, having a tea break, walking around the block, seeing your counsellor or talking to a friend.
  • Speak to your manager/team leader and ask for support e.g. debriefing, time off, more regular supervision
  • See your GP and discuss if you need a referral for a mental health plan to see a counsellor to address what has triggered the feelings and memories.
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat good food, drink lots of water, try to limit coffee, alcohol and use of substances as this will only manage symptoms but not address the core issues.