OHAA Nationa Conference – Dealing with Vicarious Trauma

Dealing with Difficult Histories:  Vicarious Trauma and the Researcher. 

9.00 am 24 September 2013.

Introduction by Alison McDougall
Karen George
Ela Samoraj, Victim Support Service
Sarah Green, Client Liaison Officer, Find & Connect (http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/)

Resize of Karen George4AKaren George – learned what an impact vicarious trauma can have, did “Bringing Them Home” project.  There was no discussion about being distressed.  Interviewers developed empathy and carried the stories with them.  Karen also worked on Finding Your Own Way which brought about the “Mulligan Inquiry” into children in State care.  Historians were regarded low on the risk list.  Things crept up on her.  Karen became paranoid.  It was very stressful and traumatic and she started having flashbacks.  Relationship became affected.  Saw a psychologist, had PTSD.  Counselling helped and she took up running.  Interviewers must be empathetic and let go.  She could not listen to them a second time.  Interviewers must be aware of vicarious trauma.




Resize of Ela Samoraj3AEla Samoraj – Exposure to stories of hurt, loss, abuse and neglect carries a risk of vicarious traumatisation. It can affect our physical health and change the way we think about ourselves, others and the world. It can change how we relate to our loved ones. Since the early 1990s terms such as compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress have also been used to describe that experience. The researchers, oral historians and transcribers of traumatic narratives, are not immune to that risk. Interviewing survivors, witnessing their courage and resilience – positive aspects of work, make it often difficult to acknowledge that listening, reading and writing about trauma, can also hurt. While compassion satisfaction and vicarious resilience can act as protective factors, the negative impact ignored, dismissed or brushed aside can gradually build up. Noticing how our bodies, minds and hearts respond to the narratives of trauma can support our resilience.  Putting in place effective self-care strategies and accessing support, will mitigate initially transient effects and, over time, successfully transform potentially, debilitating personal and professional consequences of secondary traumatic exposure. Website here.
Note – Ela Samoraj has kindly provided this summary of her presentation.


Resize of Sarah Green2ASarah Green – The Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants, 500,000 children in institutional care.  Find & Connect website http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ began receiving 30 emails a week.  1700 have been received so far.  We have better records from these institutions.  As adults they were expected to forget their experiences.  From the “Apology” most important was “We believe you”.  These people want to tell their stories.  What kind of sustenance do you give in return?  There is great weight of expectations.  Work is a journey.  A diverse range of emails.  Started to deal with VT.  Began to talk about it.  Most retain boundaries. 

If an interviewee becomes stressed you may ask “Do you want to continue with that?”  See what works for you to deflect the trauma to yourself.  How to end that sort of interview – have a cuppa, make sure there is someone to be with them.  Allow plenty of time to turn away from distressing topic and ask questions e.g. what are you most proud of in your life?  What is your biggest achievement?  Always support when you confront.  How do you deal with anger?  Let the person ride it out.  Maybe you need some assistance or change the subject.  Acknowledge the anger.  What do you hope people will learn from this interview?  The person is giving you something of value.  They have made the choice to say that.  Are we trying to maintain our power in the relationship?  Don’t let them make you distressed.  They should not have to help you.  Keep yourself together.  We need to prepare ourselves for the interview.  We deal with highs and lows of peoples’ lives.  We must bring the interview to a positive closure that does not leave the interviewee (or the interviewer) distressed.
Suzanne Mulligan