This week, Time magazine shows a cover photograph of a woman in Japan, apparently overwhelmed by her circumstances and surrounding devastation. The magazine describes the suffering and remarkable resilience of the Japanese people but there is little mention of what sometimes are known as secondary trauma victims. These include family members and friends far away from the disaster zone, unable to contact their loved ones, feeling helpless and intensely anxious. Secondary trauma victims also include first responders, rescue workers, medical personnel and others on the scene who experience exhaustion, compassion fatigue, burnout and the emotional drain of seeing so much suffering. Closer to home, secondary traumatic stress comes to emergency room personnel, firefighters, friends of people involved in car accidents, families of combat veterans, or those who know innocent victims of criminal violence.
An article in The Counseling Psychologist (February, 2011) discusses how business and social service organizations can help. Churches, schools, counselors, coaches, leaders and others can help as well, even without rushing to disaster zones where well-intentioned, self-appointed care-givers sometimes get in the way and hinder relief efforts instead of helping. In addition to prayer and donations, how can we stimulate help?
- Be sensitive and available to secondary trauma victims who often are forgotten.
- Encourage the recognition that it is common and acceptable to experience exhaustion, sadness, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Caregivers and family members sometimes feel guilty about their own feelings. Some believe that overwork, self-deprivation, and determination are marks of honor or that only the weak succumb to fatigue or despair. There is value in recognizing that secondary trauma is normal, that it is OK to feel exhausted, to grieve, to cry.
- Be supportive. Caregivers sometimes comment that they can manage the demands if they feel “supported, validated, and valued by their” supervisors, colleagues and others.
- When possible, encourage secondary trauma victims to utilize stress management and relaxation strategies. Remind them to get rest, exercise, and eat well.
- Never overlook the spiritual support that comes from other believers and from God who sustains us in times of stress.
How have you helped secondary stress victims in ways that could inform the rest of us?