Recently, I participated in a webinar on Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. As the webinar progressed, the conversation shifted from the trauma that students have experienced in their lives, to the trauma that teachers working with aggressive youth face daily. While children and families are heavily impacted by trauma, so can be educators. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (www.NCTSN.org) states that any professional (including educators) who works directly with traumatized youth is vulnerable to the effects of trauma. This is referred to as Secondary Traumatic Stress or STS. It is also referred to as “compassion fatigue”, “vicarious trauma” or “indirect trauma”. Whatever you call it, it is a very real issue of concern that may arise from working with students with significant emotional and behavioral difficulties.
Secondary traumatic stress occurs when a professional is exposed indirectly to the trauma experienced by others within the context of the workplace. This can include hearing stories from students or reading case files about student’s trauma, or it can be repeated exposure to verbal and physical aggression that some educators experience.
The signs and symptoms of STS include: increased irritability or impatience with students, avoiding people or activities, difficulty planning activities and lessons, inability to concentrate, feeling numb or detached, intense feelings and intrusive thoughts about a student’s trauma that don’t lessen over time, anxiety, excess vigilance, or nightmares. The first step in dealing with secondary traumatic stress is to being aware of the signs. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has provided a link SELF CARE to online resources for educators who work with challenging youth.
With so much changing daily in the field of education it is imperative that we remember to take care of ourselves. Saakvitne and Pearlman (1996) identified strategies in four areas that are important in preventing STS:
- Professional strategies include having a balanced caseload and accessible supervision.
- Agency strategies include safe physical space, access to EAP programs and release time for staff.
- Personal strategies include caring for yourself, and respecting your limits.
- General coping strategies include self-nurturing, making connections and stress management.
So, take care of yourself today. Exercise, spend time with friends and family, listen to music and have a life outside of your job. When we take care of ourselves, we take better care of our students!