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Responses to 'Research study: Existence of Vicarious Trauma in CYC'

2015

Hello,

My name is Paulina Kozak. I am a 4th year student in the School of Child and Youth Care at Ryerson University.

I would like to invite all Child and Youth Counsellors to participate in my research study. The purpose of my study is to determine the existence of Vicarious Trauma (VT) in the field of Child and Youth Care (CYC) and the enduring psychological consequences CYCs experience when exposed to the traumatic experiences of victim clients.

The following on-line survey has been created using Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey is an online site that customizes surveys which includes data analysis, sample selection, bias elimination, and data representation tools. Its major component is their privacy and security for their users and participants.

Thank-you for your time.

Paulina Kozak
...

Wow. I’m excited about this research! Will you publish your findings on CYC-net please?
 
Peter DeLong
...

Hi Peter,

I want to thank-you for your interest in my research! I hope to publish my findings in the near future.

Take Care,

Paulina K.
...

Pauline,

Forgive my abruptness, but your “research'” is a classic example of what’s wrong (WR) in child and youth care work (CYCW) – in my opinion (IMY), of course. Most of our experience is “vicarious”’; our most fundamental “truama’” is our birth; identifying a person as a “victim” is to transfer power to the “saviour,” and referring to children as our “clients” suggest that they have selected us to work on their behalf. Here we have the medical model in all it’s pretentious glory. Ultimately the answers will be provided by the pharmaceutical industry. On the other hand, I like the “Survey Monkey” bit.

Gerry Fewster
...

Hi Pauline,

First of all I have to say I agree with Gerry, the medical model of CYC is one that continues in an attempt to gain power over the individual. The perception has been, and in most cases still is - that this works! As a CYCW, I choose to serve in the field as a mentor to adults...this work has undoubtedly proven to me, and I quote Gerry, that "our most fundamental trauma is our birth"; and that is just the beginning!

I hear it all the time, as they, the adults, reach back to the most traumatic times of their lives - their childhoods!

Until the language changes and the pretentiousness that 'youth' can be saved is no longer the reason people choose to work in this field we will continue to have 50+ year old adults with the experience that they have been treated unjust and unfairly, as they continue to live their stories and are those who are still looking for a voice.

Our job as humans is not to gain power over anyone, but to 'meet them were they are', listen with empathy and get out of our own way so that we can serve our profession and truly get the work done...sticking bandaids on is not working, has never worked and will not work ever!!!

And yes these 50+ year olds rely on their anti depressants by day and their sleeping pill by night just to get by.
Is it working? No! That’s my PERCEPTION.

Karen Hanlon
...

Good morning Pauline,

I'm glad to see that you are researching CYC practice and workers' experiences. While some may argue there is a good body of literature that puts CYC work on solid ground, much of the literature specific to practice is more commentary or conceptual pieces with very little 'ground work' in actually talking with CYC workers - and specifically, CYC-educated workers - so I applaud your efforts!

Gerry raises some interesting points regarding language that can pose really challenging situations for the researcher (and for practice) in which language is viewed as constructing experience and identity (e.g., the use of the term "clients" conveys the meaning that children hired us). Language/meaning also changes over time (e.g., we used to use refer to the work as "doing to" and now we refer to it as "being with" thus repositioning our relationship as collaborative). Some of the terms we've adopted come from different fields - "vicarious trauma" or "clients" being examples of this.

The challenge for us when we borrow concepts is to figure out how it fits, doesn't fit, or requires re-definition in applying the concept to CYC work. You may find from your research that CYC workers provide different ideas of what constitutes vicarious trauma. That said, many of our ideas (and CYC scholars for that matter) are "borrowed" from other disciplines, which can make it very confusing for the CYC student-practitioner in developing a sense of professional identity.

Along with the need to re-imagine concepts in relation to CYC work, in my opinion (or as Gerry would say "IMY") we DO need to be fluent in other discipline's languages so we can effectively communicate with professionals from allied disciplines in our work with young people. If we aren't fluent, we can end up constructing and reinforcing a professional hierarchy in which CYC is placed on the lowest rung of the ladder, and more importantly, not be able to translate for the young people we work with.

Best of luck with your study.

Patti Ranahan
...

I don’t want to get into the tedious debate about professionalism in child & youth care. I’m at that stage where it’s time to cut through the crap. My position is simple: the so-called “helping” professions are now creating the very problems they set out to ameliorate. Social Work makes it possible for governments to neglect the fundamental needs of children; clinical psychology has settled into labeling kids for ‘treatment’ purposes and psychiatry is peddling medication for short term symptom relief and long term incapacitation. Meanwhile, good old child & youth care is picking up some the droppings, like “trauma” and pasting them on its resume. The common factor is that all these stances are designed to turn people into serviceable objects and, for me, this is the antithesis of relational practice. If it’s research we want then let’ study what the others are too blind and invested to consider – what actually happens in the relationship between one human being and another. For me, the option of hanging onto the coat tails of the traditional ‘undisciplines’ is not a pathway to communication among caring communities, it’s a sure-fire way of remaining on the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder. For me the time has come to say “stop the bullshit” – the kids need us like never before.

Gerry Fewster
...

Hi Folks,

Can we all take a collective step back, take a deep breath, and remember that this is a student who has been educated in a CYC program? All of these criticisms need to be addressed to the field as a whole. If we can't apply this same empathy and "meeting them where they are," as Karen has identified, to our students we are educating to put out into the world with a stamp of approval to work with children, youth, and families, I worry about the future of our field.

Gerry, I completely agree about the medicalization of much of the field. At the same time, this is a systemic problem. And, this student sent out a request to an international listserve and was only following APA style with the parenthesis, which is also a product of her education, so the use of parenthesis in your response feels really dismissive or mocking.

Just some thoughts from another (grad) student.

Stephanie Brockett
...

Hi Paulina,

I read, with some concern, the comments you received about the medical model and the borrowing language, on this list serve. I know this vicarious trauma literature well, since I completed a Masters degree on the topic and included this concept in my PhD work. While the term trauma can be problematic in that it is difficult to apply easily, we certainly know from both the literature and the front line work that children continue to be traumatized, even after birth. Yes, Gerry is correct that birth can be traumatizing, but many of us then go on to experience love and care in ways that help us heal from our birthing trauma. The children we work with have had a vastly different experience hence they end up with us in their lives. Perhaps what these individuals responding to your research who are questioning language may not recognize is that because some of us come from a different world than the children we engage with daily, when we do, what is considered "good" CYC work and enter the flow of the child, then we are entering a world that can be quite unfamiliar. It is in entering this place that we might have a vicarious experience of the child's on-going trauma. The originator of this term were quite clear that it has to do with empathic engagement and a change in our own worldview because of the work. I tend toward the use of the words Compassion Fatigue (Figley, 1995, 2002), the constructs of which are slightly different but the term seems to be somewhat less offensive to those who have trouble with psychological language. Please feel free to contact me if you want further information . The work of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue is work I engage with regularly.

Pat Kostouros
...

Dear All

While I do, at times, deplore Gerry Fewster's tone and apparent censoriousness (a tendency unfortunately that I am prone to as well), I echo and support his frustration. I agree with him completely that we, as social service providers, are creating the very problems we are ostensibly setting out to solve. More than that, the edges that many of us are borrowing from our colleagues in psychology, social work etc. are the most reactionary and politically regressive aspects of those fields. The particular take on trauma and vicarious trauma most popular in the common vernacular of child and youth care, at this time, is the one most likely to allow us to avoid the material and political actualities of life for young people and workers in the 21st century.

There are far more interesting and politically more cogent readings from our own field (see Janet Newbury's lovely piece that includes a brilliant section on burnout "Postgrowth Possibilities in Child and Youth Care in the book With Children for example) or even from psychology (see the extremely interesting long sections on trauma and proposals for joint politically informed work in Towards Psychologies of Liberation by Watkins and Schulman).

I have to wonder why we continue to be drawn to those theoretical frameworks from outside child and youth care that have the least possibility of re-mediating the brutality of current social conditions for the young people we encounter.

I agree with Gerry that most of what we are borrowing has been designed to "turn people into serviceable objects" but I would go further and say that these approaches under the current regimes of global capitalism are designed to turn people into redundant and irrelevant objects; broken bits and pieces of social machinery to be consigned to the trash heap of capitalist development.

The remedy, as Gerry points out is not to be found at the center of disciplines historically situated to operate as precisely the agents of social control and discipline for the dominant system of rule. Instead, it is to be found in the revolutionary foundations of our very own field -- that is in living relations of creativity and common force.

It is in this sense that I applaud Gerry's proposal for research that investigates "what actually happens in the relationship between one human being and another. " Without a doubt Gerry is correct when he says that in this historical moment the kids need us more than ever and I would add we need them. We need thinking and research that opens up the pathways between us so that we can work together now to change the world into a place where living things can thrive including us.

Hans Skott-Myhre
...

Dear Paulina,

It’ s clear from the responses to your email that your research has got off to an exciting start. You've certainly stirred up an important "something." Congratulations. The kind of discussion which is going on as a consequence of your first request can only be helpful to us as we think more about our field of endeavour.

On considering what is my very limited knowledge of VT in relation to CYC or residential child care I start from the position that any description, any explanation, any understanding of our work should acknowledge the mutuality within the relationships that go on in our work and just as a child brings his or her traumatic and other experiences, thoughts, feelings, prejudices, and fantasies to this relationship so equally do I. I am not a different kind of species. Our (child and adult) relationship will affect us both and will change us both and there will be times when a child may understand what's going on between us better than I do. It is possible for both of us to feel better or even more healed in the process of such a relationship. Sometimes a bad experience in our relationship will transform over time to be understood as a good one. Our relationship as in all things human has an ever changing dynamic. Of course in a group living setting where we (children and adults) live together there is a labyrinth of relationships going on. In such a setting anything "vicarious' processes are surely mutual and labyrinthine also. All this is not to deny that adults as more experienced human beings may occasionally have to take decisions that will keep everyone safe.

I am frustrated by people who seek to depersonalise what is a very primitive social experience by finding it necessary to attach a syndrome with a neat acronym to the way a child behaves. It is as if by doing this they feel they have at once defined, contained and solved a problem, thus making "the expert" feel much more secure when in fact all that has happened is that a new term has been coined. At best here what it is to live together is not being dealt with as whole, as in my view it should be, but only as a part issue.

On the other hand I am aware I suffer from ISIABS (I've Seen It All Before Syndrome) but nonetheless I am a sincere adherent to EGMRTW Theory (Each Generation Must Rediscover The Wheel Theory) because the wheel the new generation discovers is always a little different and often slightly better.

Accordingly, I am really interested in reading the findings of your research. In one way or another they will tell us things about the current state of the thinking behind our work.

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe


I agree entirely with Stephanie - this is an issue relating to CYC as a whole. Personally I thank Paulina for bringing this to our attention and wish her well in this fascinating profession.

Gerry Fewster

I am unable to understand how child & youth care workers can ever be at the bottom rung of some ladder when we are directly with young people and their families? This would suggest they, young people and their families, are at the bottom of some ladder in importance or lack thereof. I for one am quite fine with being at the bottom of some ladder which doesn't exist unless I decide it does.

I can understand how egos can assume the position of not feeling worthy and choose to be at the bottom of something to ensure the fulfillment of some prophesy of " I am not worthy".

When I was completing my Master's thesis it would have been a privilege to have had opportunity to have someone like Gerry and others on this forum comment on my work before I began in whatever form they chose. It is within the experience of criticism/feedback that I can choose to become precise to best serve our field. This field can't continue to wake up every morning looking to be offended at some point in our day. It is there we will chase our tails and lose our power that some feel we need. I do love the role of "gate-keeper" though I often do that myself.

As always, powerful commentary on important issues that shape our practice. Thank you!

Ernie Hilton
...

I feel the need to comment on the passion that is so evident in these posts. Our work is unique and as a relational practice, I feel the need to comment on the wording of the research. "...exposed to the traumatic experiences of victim clients."

Exposed suggests contamination, victim pathologizes and the use of clients to represent the individuals we work with suggests a disconnect from our relational practice.

To be considered as a practitioner in relational work, it is important that we adopt a language that reflects this work that sets us apart from other disciplines. IF we are to truly present a different experience of service providers, then our reference to this work and individuals experiences need to reflect a strength based perspective.

Donicka Budd


Viva Fewster!!

Nomashodo Mirriam Siluma


Although not a fan of Survey Monkey, I like Paulina's thinking. I am a little dismayed that I would have found some of the responses discouraging if I had been in her place.

Anyone interested in this topic may find this newly published paper informative.

Managing traumatic stress responses among clinicians: Individual and organizational tools for self-care
Brittany S Sansbury, Kelly Graves, and Wendy Scott
Trauma. 2015; 17:114-122. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF]

Ni Holmes
...

Gosh,

I've found strong reactions boiling within myself in response to this. Vicarious Traumatic (VT) responses?

I agree whole-heartedly with both Gerry and Hans on this issue philosophically. I would go a step further than Hans to say that industrialism (the pragmatic arm of capitalism) is how our post-modern/colonial/patriarchal, neo-liberal social fabric has woven a consumer/client arbiter of service renderings where human relatedness and familyhood would be better able to structure our human relating-to-ness. What I mean, is caring is constructed consumption and service units in our technological sophsitication and economic efficiencies. Evidence based practice, medical model, justice model, faith based models are how we have istitutionalized what is really a private affair between common villagers. If it take a village to raise a child then we are all visitors. Industrialism robbed the commons from the people. Agriculture, manufacturing, education, our politics are all Big business measured in degress of GDP which have nothign to do with my ability to raise a family, or myself for that matter.

Expertise is bunk when it seperates individuals from a co-creating harmony of belonging, and generous humble interdependent independence. We are all in this together.

VT, Secondary Trauma, burnout, compassion fatigue all describe the real experience of the frontline workers caring for kids in this violent uncaring (McKnight) society. We have become desolate angels indeed, for our caring is hopelessly imbedded in instituions of privilege and justice chained to transforming decrepit and false institutions of "liberty and justice for all." The nonprofit industrial complex is only different in its application fo progressive politics where neo-conservative private for profit human service provider translates human agency of caring into private profit. One values privation where the other values codification of benevolence of a different tip. Both believe a services client is a better client. Both view the path to liberty and freedom in the evidence of economic efficiency. People are profit (chomsky).
Burnout is what happens to some of us who reject this reality ("the weak ones"). For those of us who fail to fit in. For those who fail to maintain sanity in an insane world. For those fo us called to this work out of our own soul travel and belief in better ways but find no ground to stand on in the technological advancement of professional industrial identity. Caring is not an industry.

VT occurs when you listen to real stories of vulnerablity exploded ofchildren and adults who live amongst generations or moments of being-in pain, trauma, grief, loss, suffering, ambivalent yearning. When one listens openly and accepts these truths as self-evident in order to hold space for a person to transcend that momentary lapse of reason which was not there making, or a making of their weakness, those words are not air. They are held by those listeners in their hearts and their minds. Our industrial arts have no knowledge or wisdom on how to digest and release this information. How do we make space for the carer to unload this and share it so it does not eat at them or destroy them? We who have stumbled in this work might look around and wonder if they are as alone as they feel and who and what institutional expectations they can construct to support their being in health?

VT changes our thinking. Industrialized caring changes our human procilivities and demands responsibility be measured in its privacy and individuality. Post colonial capitalism renders all power to the individual thus any success or failure is personal. This is the lie which maintains power in the hands fo the privilege and the emperors tools will not transform our social landscape. More laws and rules do not make us safer.

VT is real. it nearly killed me. Or perhaps I was one of the weak ones. Who knows. Doesn't matter.

I was a youthworker, then I went to school and let that get in the way of my edcation as a carer. clinical social work and the child welfare system are impregnable bastions of middle class liberalism with a Hope for the world achieved thorugh provision of services, inhuman related-to ness, industrial medicalization, political decree, stated law and administered justice. These are the mechanisms of the machine.

Human caring needs research and wisdom gleaned from reflective practice and historical critical consciousness. Industralized labor cannot care for youth. People care for people.

VT hurts. It is the consequence of industrialisation of caring. Professionals are the machines that churn out grossly domstication people units.

Please don't get me wrong. There are many GREAT aspects and practices and models of caring and I do hold that reforming institutions rather than blowing them up is more gentle. But our world is melting, the earth is warming. What we have been doing through industrialization is destroying our world. the Professions of caring have been subsumed and absorbed by the State/Corporate world view of neo-liberalism.

I return to youthwork now because it is closest to what I believe is the most hopeful possibility for increasing human relating-to-ness (Baizerman/Buber). Youthwork generally is evidence savy, but we are simple. We believe accepting kids in space is important first step. And in doing so we have to accept each other and one another in space and hold eachother and one another in space. VT happens when we do not hold one another and share accountability to the horrors of our insitutions of "villaging." We do need to reclaim the commons, plant seeds for seven generations hence, and reclaim our own humaness, our own vitality our own conviviality (Illich).

Peter DeLong
...

Hi Paulina,

I agree with Ernie that while Gerry's self-acknowledged "abruptness" in his response startled many, and maybe particularly you (the well meaning student!), I too wish I had people of Gerry's caliber, as well as so many other accomplished people, comment and give perspective to my work in my early learning days. Your post did us all a service by stimulating vigorous discussion, and more opportunity for us all to re-think our practice and approach to Child and Youth Care. I must admit that I never thought of the perspective that referring to children as "clients" implies they hired us. Gerry's reminder about being careful of the influence of the medical model on our field is an important reminder for all of us,...and we should have those reminders on a regular basis. I also think it is important for us all to be careful about how we interpret this very fashionable word called trauma and the implications that come from it. If we begin to see children and families we work with as "victims" how long before we start to enable them and empathy starts to slide toward sympathy? I think we should also be very careful how much we might tend to see ourselves as "victims" because of the dynamics of the work we have chosen to do. I recently startled a few in a training I was facilitating on Critical Thinking Leadership by (provocatively) suggesting that I was struggling with the "new normal" concept of "self-care". Of course, I am not against us caring for ourselves, but how long before we start to see the need for "self-care" slide toward we are being "victimized" by our agency, the system, etc., etc. and the beginning subtly justifying less than optimal effort in our endeavor to serve the children and families we are working with?

Just more food for thought Paulina...and thanks again for raising the question. It is for students (and all of us), after all, about the questions and not those supposed "answers"! You are off to an excellent start in your research and your career!

Frank Delano

Good day…

I appreciated reading the response by Gerry and cutting through the crap. I think there is a lot of crap that needs to be cut through and having an “elder” (sorry Gerry!) in the field and their perspective is what we child and youth care professionals need to hear.

The professional image and what CYC work is gets lost in murky waters on a daily basis in systemic matters that want to measure and track outcomes on everything. Relational work is not that black and white. It doesn’t mean the CYC field is “less than” and we need to be mindful of what we are and stay on this track…but all too often the murky waters drown out the good work (amazing work!) that CYCs do each and every day…thanks!

Julie Clarke
Late blooming CYCer who likes a good conversation

P.S. I’ve always felt the teachings of Canadian Psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld is the definition of CYC work in its purest form.


I would like to thank everyone for all of your thoughtful responses! I am looking forward to analyzing the data and hope to publish the results.

Paulina Kozak
____

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