Hi everyone, my name is Sonia Chen. I’m a Senior Research Advisor at the Ministry of Health New Zealand. I want to share a recent experience that has a profound impact on me unexpectedly.
I was about to design an evaluation for a worker-led pilot in mental health services at three hospitals. The funder invited me to their first half-day online planning workshop which was attended by social workers, nurses, and psychologists working at the frontline of mental health services. Little did I know, the workshop included three presentations on Vicarious Trauma (VT) – what it was, its impact on mental health professionals, and how they responded to it. As I listened and watched the presenters I would feel their emotion.
After the workshop I found myself sitting at my desk unable to move on to my next task. I could not focus and I felt heavy and a great sense of sadness. It took me a while to realise that perhaps I was momentarily experiencing “second-hand” vicarious trauma. Initially, I brushed the idea off thinking it was ridiculous and I was being dramatic. But the feeling persisted. I felt a strong need to talk to someone but as I was working from home there was no one around, and booking a counselling session for some time later was not going to cut it. Fortunately, I managed to connect to a colleague who had some experience on the topic. After some chatting, I felt better. I realised afterwards how precious this experience was at the beginning of the evaluation.
Some useful questions to consider when working on VT or other mental health related evaluations:
- Does the pilot produce any harm to its participants who will be sharing their experience in VT?
- How does the pilot protect the wellbeing of the participants?
- How can the evaluation avoid causing harm to the participants while achieving its objective?
- How do I care for my wellbeing while trying to understand my evaluand?
- What’s the impact of the pilot on all involved after it ends?
- How can we tell the impact of the topic on the success of the pilot?
- Find out early what kind of experiences might be shared with you
- Check your own reaction and perspective, e.g. are you likely to be triggered by the topic?
- Establish your self-care strategy and resources, e.g. exercise, professional support, setting boundaries.
- Identify cool friends who can lend you an ear and support you when you need it.
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