Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress in Staff

Lynn Garst (bio) focuses on recognizing the symptoms of secondary traumatic stress in staff members.


One of the big pieces of helping work through secondary traumatic stress or trauma is really an understanding of how it impacts the individual. So if you look at most cognitive behavioral therapies, whether it's for trauma, or depression, or anxiety, there's this big component around normalizing the experience, that these are common symptoms.

Some of the symptoms that we see among staff would be increased irritability. You just can't handle irritations that normally you'd just kind of let go. So that might be a kind of a minor thing. We might see just an increase in strong emotional responses to situations. Anxiety. It can translate into sleep problems, either having trouble getting to sleep, waking up early.

I think one of the most dramatic effects, and it's the one that I really look for the most in any staff, is around social isolation. That's one of the biggest predictors of PTSD. So that staff that are beginning to not utilize the people that are around them, may avoid experiences or activities that in the past were pleasurable.

Again, they may end up kind of beginning to push other people away. And so I think that's an important kind of symptom to look for among staff. It can translate into physical symptoms, stomachaches, headaches, as well as, in some cases, substance abuse. So it can really cover the gamut.

Helping a school to really understand the importance of that really means creating a school that is really trauma-informed.

We talk about seeing things through a trauma lens and recognizing that the question is not, "Why are these kids like this?" Or, "Why are these staff like this?" It's really, "What happened to you?"

And it's really a huge reframe, but once you begin asking that question, I think it really pushes organizations to think about then how do they respond, and how do they create systems that support students, that support families, that support the staff, through their own experience.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2012 in Santa Monica, CA.

 

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