Home > feelings, health, work > vicarious trauma vs burnout

vicarious trauma vs burnout

Vicarious Trauma is the secondary effect of the therapeutic process and is intrinsic to good work. Empathy is the foundation of all successful practice. Empathy comes with listening and grows in depth and intensity over time with focused application. It can look like burn out but it is fundamentally different. Burn out is an over-application of energy or a lack of appropriate boundaries or limits or even a lack of self care. Vicarious Trauma comes with the job. The people who show up for treatment are almost always the walking wounded. Horror scarred trauma survivors who need someone to listen to them and feel their pain. Ask them questions about solutions and when they’ve done well and tell them they can do it. This is not without cost.

We know how empathy works in the brain. If you are given an electric shock certain brain areas light up on an f-mri scan. If you watch someone given an electric shock the same areas of the brain light up. Mirror neurons i think they call them that underlay our theory of mind. how we get into other peoples heads. What if you are an artist of getting into peoples heads. Maybe the negative energy would build up in you all day, almost every day so that by the end of the week you almost tingle with bad vibes.

Other peoples stress hurts your back and you feel that if you might be touched all you could do was shudder. You might become estranged from your own body and be soul sick empty. It might go up and down as your ability to tolerate it grows and becomes depleted from circumstances, real life events, that sort of thing. You might become afraid to handle it. shake it off. work it out. allow it to pass over and through you but not be you. maintain a core inviolate. but what if that just leads to ratcheting up the pressure. more. more. more.

I know what i can take and how much is good for me and i am solidly in the middle between the two. the only time i’ve worked in the field and not held symptoms of burn out was with cortez. i worked maybe 32 hours a week. 2-3 groups and maybe 10 clients, seen once weekly. i took a 4 day weekend every month, a week off every season and a month off in summer. i set my own schedule.

but i made squat and poverty has stresses of its own. the world is not organized this way. the world expects 40+ and more hard hours. i love being a clinician but it is not good for me. not in this world. but i’m learning and remain cautiously optimistic that i can find a way through the apparent inherent contradictions and do great things in a less costly way. Definitely success, people getting better, making a difference, more positive feedback then is good for me, is a counterweight to the hurts and pressures. my self care of course has a lot of room for improvement and that is probably where i need to go. the only factor really subject to change because it is under my power. gratitude of course. its whats carried me through this week til i ran up short feeling estranged and worn out but happy too at happy hour. putting it out there feels good too. i’m hesitant to share about my days unless they’re good. but one good thing about this space i don’t fear trouble. i am way beyond that.


Categories: feelings, health, work
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