By: Leslie Fischman
Chapter 4 (Data Analysis):
HOW FEELINGS, EMOTIONS, AND THOUGHTS LEAD TO . . . VICARIOUS TRAUMA, IDENTITY CHANGE AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE THERAPIST AND COUNSELOR’S SENSE OF SELF
In this chapter, I will be discussing how feelings, emotions, and thoughts lead to vicarious trauma, identity change and the transformation of the therapist’s and counselor’s sense of self.
Preventing Vicarious Trauma: Assessment of the Cognitive Therapeutic Approach
Bennett-Goldman in “Mindfulness Therapy” describes the schemas we develop about ourselves and the degree to which they can be changed and challenged throughout our personal development. Schemas, described by Bennett-Goldman, “are basic beliefs about yourself, [and] conditioned habitual patterns of the mind” (2). Therapists in becoming aware of their own “malapadative schemas about oneself” (2) begin to recognize how negative thoughts can challenge or change the way in which they “interpret reality, [with thoughts] coloring [their] beliefs, emotions and reactions.” Therapist’s have the power to break the chain that leads to changes and potential negative effects to one’s schema’s by being aware of the “habitual patterns of [their] mind” and, as clients would in Bennett-Goldman’s study, therapist’s too can get better at catching these automatic thoughts and challeng[e] them in the moment they arise, [to] begin to break free of the hold of those thoughts” (5). Therapist can achieve these skills through training, their academic career, and early work experience where they learn and practice putting to use these skills. In addition, therapists and counselors, while attempting to identify and problem-solve their own issues, can learn how to avoid getting stuck in the negativity of thoughts that may arise from their interactions with others and personal life experiences, and “gain more emotional leverage” (Bennett-Goldman:5) over their feelings and reactions.
In reading “Mindfulness Therapy” I noticed a parallel between the emotion management strategies identified by Hochschild 1983 and strategies therapist use within the cognitive therapeutic approach to helping others. If emotion management strategies can be used to help counselor’s and therapists to identify their feelings and their emotion, as well as the origins of their existence than cognitive therapy can help one identify “counterproductive thoughts” and know that “they are not obligated to believe [their] thoughts” (Bennett-Goldman:1). If we apply the cognitive therapeutic approach to “information-processing theory,” counselors can break the chain of processing their emotions in a way that would lead to either the reinforcement of negative schemas they hold or themselves or cause the development of negative schemas they hold of themselves. Bennett-Goldman argues that if “sensationàcognitionàemotionàIntent àAction” than how to put a stop to the development of negative schemas would be to heighten one’s awareness at “the feeling/emotion phase” of the “information processing cycle” (2).
Vicarious Trauma is like a panic attack (*cite*), if you ignore the signals leading up to it, it hits you, but if your mindful of the cycle that leads to it you leave room for the potential to prevent the experience from ever arising. Being mindful and aware of our feelings, according to Bennett-Goldman, requires an assessment of two factors, one being cognitive and the other mental. Therapist are better able to help others if they can help themselves pinpoint those “destructive underlying assumptions,” describes by Bennett- Goldman, and react by “develop[ing] strategies that lead to a more balanced, realistic perspective” and activate a belief within themselves and the power their mind has over the emotions they feel.
Bennett-Goldman advocates the idea that therapist who unleash their capacity to take “counterproductive, illogical thoughts, to untwist cognitive distortions, and to work with life events or their own thoughts” is one step toward develop a better understanding of themselves and their perception of others. rewrite—already in lit review***Similarly, van der Kolk (2001), in a study on the assessment and treatment of complex PTSD, argues that “people’s core sense of self, is, to a substantial degree, defined by their capacity to regulate internal states and by how well they can predict and regulate their responses to stress” (7). He believes that the longer we allow symptoms of the trauma to persist, the greater the likelihood of developing more serious psychological problems later on. Consequently, repeated exposure to victims of sexual assault and the sharing of their experiences may have a significant impact on the counselor’s emotional well being (Trippany et al. 2004). Their role, as hotline counselors and victim advocates, requires them to engage with clients on a deep and personal level and such “exposure can lead to a transformation within the psychological functioning of counselors” (31).
Studies show that some experiences may have a lasting impact and lead to “disruptions in basic cognitive schemas about [a counselor’s] trust in oneself and others and beliefs regarding safety” (Wasco and Campbell 2002:121). Some of the changes in perceptions expressed by those I interviewed, described an increase in awareness about sexual assault resulting from their experiences working with their clients. When counselors were asked what they found to be the most challenging aspect of their role, one counselor, Tanya, replied . . .
“learning about other peoples horrible experiences sometimes can give me a negative perspective on things . . .[questioning] how could someone do this? Treat someone like this? [you, as a hotline counselor] experience second hand horrible experiences.”
Wasco and Campbell (2002) describe “the lasting impact of working closely with rape survivors” (120) and the “intrapsychic effects of indirect exposure to rape on caregivers” (120). Arguing that “a transformation . . .occurs within a therapist after bearing witness to clients’ . . . experiences” (120). Many of the emotions generated between counselors and their clients are “rooted in, the open engagement of empathy, or the connection, with the client” (Trippany et al. 2004:31).
Zimering expresses that the greatest pitfalls to trauma work also have the potential to bring great rewards, if they (the therapist/counselor) responds constructively.
Pearlman & Saakvitne in Zimering et al. describes the four domains of the prevention of secondary trauma and the identifying factors encompassing each.
Addressing Cultural Changes in Relation to the Counselor’s Role Transformation
As society evolves and the individuals within them change, so does the role of the therapist and hotline counselor in responding to victims of trauma. From a sociological perspective, changes occurring within society can have a tremendous effect on the individual sense of self, depending on the mechanisms of which they have to successful cope with these changes. As culture changes, people change and new problems associated with those changes arise. In lieu of the major catastrophes that have struck our nation in recent years, researchers have begun to question the effectiveness of the care provided by first respondents and those in the metal health care professions and the level of preparation in the event of an emergency. Thus new studies, such as the one’s conducted by . . . . . . . have questioned the necessary training that should be required among mental health care professionals and first respondents (i.e. hotline counselors) to deal with these newly arising social problems and how to help others address and cope with their present circumstances.
Cause and Effect: How Counselor may become desensitized as a way of coping with unwanted or disturbing feelings associated with the work they do, occurs when counselor’s forget how to feel objectively and differentiate between surface levels of acting and deep acting. They lose control of the emotions and ability to make sense of them, they become overwhelmed and the feelings of a loss of control over their emotions mirrors the disempowerment of the survivors they speak to who feel a lost sense of control themselves. When our “curious shades of will” have been tainted and our “capacity to control the way we feel” has been tarnished.
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Leslie A. Fischman