Vicarious Trauma and Birth Work

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a horrific event such as an accident, rape, or natural disaster. However, a person can experience trauma in response to any event that he perceives as physically or emotionally threatening or harmful.

Our mind is very powerful, powerful enough to work, study, communicate, and manage the many projects of our lives, but it is also fragile enough to cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Our current fears are often rooted in traumatic experiences from our past. What one perceives as traumatic may not be, because trauma is in the eye of the beholder. One may be bound to their trauma and easily triggered by triggers known only to them. A look, a touch, a smell or even an energy can cause a person to relive their inner nightmares. Our life experiences are the sum of who we are and almost everyone has experienced some type of traumatic event.

The beautiful experiences of birth where family life begins can also be the place where traumatic events occur, are triggered, and relived. While people giving birth can experience trauma during or after childbirth, birth workers can also experience trauma vicariously, and it’s important that we find ways to manage our own trauma. Sometimes, like our client’s trauma, it can leak from old unhealed wounds that may be tied to resources, therapy, or innate resilience.

There are several different types of trauma some of them severe trauma resulting from a stressful or dangerous event; acute trauma resulting from repeated or prolonged exposure to highly stressful events; complex trauma resulting from multiple traumatic events and then having vicarious trauma or secondary trauma resulting from close contact with someone who has experienced a traumatic event. For this blog, I want to talk about how birth workers can be at risk for vicarious trauma with symptoms that mimic PTSD, and they can be short-term or long-term.

The APA defines Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic event, such as combat, a natural disaster or crime, or even a traffic accident. It can affect personal relationships or health it is a mental health condition that can be triggered by a shocking event experiencing it or by witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, as well as repeated thoughts about the event.

The business of birth can be unpredictable and witnessing the trauma of birth can have a lasting effect on doulas. A traumatic event in childbirth can be witnessing the person giving birth not having the expected birth outcome, witnessing maltreatment, witnessing the loss of a newborn, or witnessing a baby born with a difficult health condition etc. There are many things we can do as birth workers do to avoid experiencing vicarious trauma and its lasting effects, it is important that we also monitor ourselves for signs of burnout and or compassion fatigue.

We know most of the general ways to take care of ourselves by eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, but there are other things we should consider to avoid vicarious trauma. First, there are many professional self-assessments that are free, such as Professional Quality of Lifethere are also many online self assessmentswhich will help you measure whether you are sufficiently engaged in self-care.

Next, we often use the term “holding space” when we talk about the times we support our clients, it is important to remind ourselves that we are doing that, holding the client’s trauma for a while, and should also let us have a place and a practice of how we can bring it out.

Maintaining boundaries is another self-care practice in this case, I’m referring to being aware of how many traumatic events you’ve witnessed or heard about in a given period of time. Compare this to the number of opportunities you gave yourself to release those events. Ask yourself what restorative activities have I participated in recently, have I taken time for myself to do things that help me reset my mind and spirit after witnessing or listening to traumatic events the client?

Also, birth workers should enjoy life outside of work doing things that bring them joy such as eating dinner with family and friends, yoga, deep breathing, spa days, vacations , swimming, walking, painting, walking, reading something unrelated to work and writing are things we can do to differentiate work life and home life. Therapy for ourselves can also be a practical way to put things into perspective and to ensure that we are not processing our personal trauma through the trauma we witness in our clients.

Finally, in every doula practice, we all have a niche or specialty that we love, enjoy, and strengthen. bitdefender total security 2016 license key or secondary trauma may appear in that specialty. Remember to say to yourself what you say to you pe design 11 torrent clients; “you deserve to feel good” “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and “you have to take care of yourself to get others.”


About the Author

Karen M. Peterson has more than 30 years of experience working with women and children. She is a wife and mother with a blended family of 8 children and 12 grandchildren. She holds a BSED from West Chester University, she has taught at every grade level from K-12.

Karen spent twelve years teaching pregnant and teen parenting and prior to that 6 years as a foster parent to pregnant teenage mothers. Karen is a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, Certified Lactation Counselor (AALPP), a trained birth doula (DONA) a certified postpartum doula (CAPPA) and a Faculty Postpartum Doula Trainer for CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association). Karen has a Podcast that can be found on multiple networks @kmpdoulaservice.

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