Will, How and What: 3 of Your Questions Answered
Q1. I'm a sexual abuse survivor. Will this content be triggering for me?
A. This question always reminds me that I talk with such thoughtful, self-aware professionals. I'm more of a trauma educator than a health educator so my content seldom mentions graphic details of the kinds of sexual abuse, for example. We do talk about case studies and individual stories to help participants understand how to use that material to improve their own response. Beyond that, I approach this issue from a few angles:
1) I encourage training organizers to remind attendees about the sensitive content.
2) I invite anyone to reach out to me in advance to share any concerns that they have about the material and/or talk about their own story.
3) I remain available after the training for follow up conversations and questions.
Some survivors are triggered by the material and some are not. And survivor professionals are often more inclined to dip into empathy than non-survivors. Most survivor participants say that they learned more about themselves, their own healing and capacity as professionals as a result of my training. Survivor attendees also report to me greater confidence and competence in their own work.
Q2. How can a patient or client be re-traumatized?
A. This can happen in a number of ways, some of which are preventable by the healthcare professionals, like you, that they might see on a daily basis.
Something as simple as a routine medical procedure (a blood draw, cervical exam) or commonly used language (“this won’t hurt,” or “just relax,”) can be thought of as "triggers". Triggers can make hard situations even worse, whether the abuse was yesterday or thirty years ago. Some survivors are very aware of their triggers (being approached from behind, for example) and some are not. So it's always best to make all efforts to avoid re-traumatizing patients. There are many way to do this but the first would be to trauma-sensitize the office, practice and procedures as much as possible. Patients who feel triggered or "even" vulnerable coming to a clinic or practice are not only less likely to return but even if they do, they are more likely to become that challenging or elusive patient who feels like a lot of work.
Q3. I’m not a counselor; I’m a _______. What can I do to help survivors?
A. One common misconception about sexual abuse survivors is that they need mental health services. Some do but some don't. And some have been re-traumatized by the very mental health providers who were supposed to help so it can be better if you aren't a counselor. And remember, I'm not a counselor either.
What your clients and patients need is for you to be informed about abuse, its affects and to use that knowledge to connect them in an inclusive and sensitive way. Connection is the best thing you can offer a survivor patient. They don't need you to heal or fix them. Like any other situation where you encounter an issue that is beyond your expertise, you can always refer out. I have a list of additional support options including my free sexual abuse survivor peer support group that I can share.
For additional questions, including "when" & "why", let's talk. Thanks for reading.