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Caregivers Need Help Too

 

Image courtesy of the National Association of Social Workers' BeASocialWorker.org website.

Image courtesy of the National Association of Social Workers’ BeASocialWorker.org website.

Early in her career, a social worker tried to help a child who was the son of a prostitute.

The child told her about his harrowing life. His mother suffered from mental illness, was unable to properly care for her children and the boy had taken on the role of a parent.

“The interaction was so upsetting for the social worker that she could not work for the rest of the day, especially as she experienced profound grief toward this child,” said Philadelphia social worker Vic Compher, who is collecting interviews for a documentary film about secondary traumatic stress called “Caregivers.”

“It was overwhelming – she had to go to her own therapist,” Compher, LCSW, added. “She had to learn to find a boundary and to be compassionate –but also to protect herself emotionally.”

Secondary traumatic stress, or compassionate fatigue, are physical and emotional responses that can occur among social workers, doctors, nurses and other professionals who work with highly traumatized people. Symptoms can include intrusive thoughts, anxiety, sleep disturbance, flashbacks, appetite changes or depression.

Compher first became aware of the disorder in the 1990s when he was an administrator in the public child welfare system. He saw how the near death or injury of a child not only affected staff that worked directly with the child but the whole agency.

Social worker Karen Miller talks about how she was traumatized after talking to a client whose mother ran a brothel. Screenshot from Caregivers documentary trailer.

Social worker Karen Miller talks about how she was traumatized after talking to a client whose mother ran a brothel. Screenshot from Caregivers documentary trailer.

Compher and others teamed with the University of Pennsylvania to develop a grief assistance program for social workers that included peer counselors, support groups, an informal debriefing process and an annual Day of Remembrance to honor the memory of the children who had died and the professionals who had worked with them and their families.

Now Compher is working to complete the “Caregivers” film to let social workers and other professions know there is help available if they experience secondary traumatic stress.

There is a trailer of the film on the “Caregivers” website and a 21-minute version of the film available that is already being used in workshops. Compher hopes to eventually release a 50 to 80-minute feature documentary, depending on how much funding his team can generate.

“We are not only looking for stories of secondary trauma but also looking for positive examples of progressive organizations that are aware of the problem and trying to do something about it,” he said.

Visit the Caregivers Film website and Facebook page  to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. Feel free to contact viccompher@comcast.net with questions or how to obtain a workshop version of the film.  To learn more about how social workers help people deal with grief visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Grief and Loss website.

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1 Comment

  1. interesting interview on a largely ignored topic. any additional comments from social workers would be
    very helpful to add to the discussion for us all.

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