How to Deal with Vicarious Trauma

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How to Deal with Vicarious Trauma

As a therapist, I’ve always been deeply committed to immersing myself in the lives and struggles of my clients. It’s a journey filled with empathy, insight, and heart. But over the years, I’ve come to recognize a hidden challenge in our profession: vicarious trauma. It’s a topic that’s close to my heart, and I’ve had the opportunity to explore it in depth with Dr. Lisa Corbin, a vicarious trauma expert, on the latest episode of “Love, Happiness, and Success for Therapists.”

What Is Vicarious Trauma?

Vicarious trauma is an occupational hazard for therapists, often overlooked in the broader discourse of mental health. It occurs when therapists, through the process of empathy and connection, lose emotional boundaries with therapy clients and begin to internalize their trauma and emotional distress. This phenomenon can lead to significant changes in worldview, impacting our personal and professional lives.

Initially, vicarious trauma can be mistaken for therapist burnout, but its symptoms and impacts are more profound. Therapists may find themselves experiencing hypervigilance, anxiety, and changes in their perception of safety and trust. It’s a gradual process where the distressing experiences of clients start echoing in the therapist’s own life, leading to altered behaviors and attitudes.

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Strategies for Managing Vicarious Trauma as a Therapist

Dealing with vicarious trauma requires a multifaceted approach. Grounding techniques and mindfulness practices are essential tools for therapists. These methods help in maintaining a balance between being empathetically present for the client and preserving our mental health. Physical rituals, like hand-washing between sessions, can also serve as symbolic acts of separating oneself from the emotional intensity of therapeutic work.

Support from a strong therapeutic community and leaning into spirituality or personal belief systems can also provide immense relief and perspective. Engaging in open discussions about these experiences, seeking supervision, and sharing coping strategies with peers are vital for managing vicarious trauma. If you’re in a positive therapist work environment where you have the support of other clinicians, lean on your network when you’re struggling with vicarious trauma.

Spirituality, whether in the form of religious beliefs or a broader sense of connection to something greater, can also offer a framework for understanding and processing these intense emotional experiences.

Ethical Considerations and Professional Responsibility

There is an ethical dimension to addressing vicarious trauma. Therapists have a responsibility to recognize it in themselves and their peers. Failing to do so can impair the therapist’s ability to deliver quality care and might lead to further personal distress for clients. Seeking professional help, engaging in peer discussions, and embracing self-care practices are not just personal choices, but professional obligations.
In some cases, when a therapist is unable to hold healthy emotional boundaries with a client, the most ethical course of action may be to let the therapy client go and make a referral to another qualified clinician.

Acceptance as a Key to Well-being

An essential aspect of dealing with vicarious trauma is acceptance. As therapists, we must acknowledge that we cannot do the work for our clients. We cannot resolve every client’s trauma and some clients might not be ready for healing. Accepting these limitations is crucial for us to maintain our well-being while providing empathetic care.

Support for a Healthy, Satisfying Career as a Therapist

I hope this article and podcast episode on vicarious trauma has been helpful for you. This topic underscores the need for increased awareness, self-care, and mutual support within our communities as therapists. And that is exactly what we do at Growing Self. We are a collective of private practitioners specializing in helping growth-oriented clients create more love, happiness and success in their lives. We do this by looking after the wellbeing of our therapists, so they have the tools they need to thrive. 

If you’re interested in being a part of our community, I invite you to explore our group private practice opportunities

And, follow “Love, Happiness and Success for Therapists” on Apple Podcasts to ensure you never miss an episode. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — Are you at risk of therapist burnout? Take my free quiz and find out. 

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  • 00:00 What Is Vicarious Trauma? 
  • 10:06 Dr. Lisa Corbin’s Personal Experience with Vicarious Trauma
  • 19:04 Recognizing and Addressing Vicarious Trauma
  • 25:08 What to Do About Traumatized Colleagues
  • 39:36 Acceptance and Self-Care
  • 40:51 Physical Rituals and Grounding Exercises
  • 42:21 Supporting Each Other as Therapists
  • 43:15 Infusing Trauma Discussions into Supervision
  • 44:23 Spirituality and Religion as Coping Mechanisms
  • 45:48 Invoking Higher Power to Help
  • 46:43 Sharing Traumatic Experiences with Colleagues
  • 50:28 Increasing Awareness and Seeking Support

Lisa Marie Bobby: Every day, heroic therapists across the globe are immersing themselves into the lives and the struggles of their clients with empathy, with insight, with heart, but What happens when the stories that they, that we hear stick with us and the pain that we witness, that we feel with our clients starts to echo in our own minds and in our own lives, even after the session ends. 

Cause it happens a lot. Vicarious trauma is a very real and very serious occupational hazard for us. So understanding it, recognizing when it’s happening and also having a game plan for how to manage it is a really essential piece of our professional and our personal wellbeing in this profession. And so that’s why we’re talking about it on today’s show.

And welcome to love, happiness and success for therapists, by the way, if this is your first time listening, this is a podcast dedicated to the personal and professional well being of therapists. I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m the founder of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. Um, I’m a psychologist. I’m a marriage and family therapist, but most importantly, I am a fellow traveler on this grand adventure, right?

Like what a career. And I am so pleased to be joined today by a fellow. Adventurer and traveler right here with us is Dr. Lisa Corbin. She is the director of the MS counseling programs and an assistant professor at the school of professional and applied psychology at the Philadelphia college of osteopathic medicine.

She is also a private practitioner, but most importantly, and saliently, she’s had a lot of firsthand experience with, I get confused. Vicarious trauma. She has become an advocate for therapists like us who are experiencing this very common occupational hazard. Um, Dr. Corbin routinely delivers talks on this subject.

She has built and developed self care strategies and her academics program curriculum in an effort to help counselors with exactly this. And today she’s here to share her insight and wisdom with you. And me. So welcome, Dr. Corbin. Thank you for being here. Thank you for having me. Yeah.  So my goodness, um, there is just so much to unpack here and, uh, what I always like to do, you know, especially when I have fascinating guests like you on the show is  cause I’m a naturally curious person and I just always so interested, like  did this become a professional Passion area for you.

Was it, was there a personal story here or how did this become a?  A thing for you, of course there is, because I think most of us who go into the helping profession, right? We have these lived experiences. Well, yeah, that’s true. We did. And so for sure, one of my specialties happens to be this vicarious trauma because, um, I realized over the years I’ve experienced vicarious trauma, but in different ways.

And, um,  It led to me now saying, Hey, this is something that we have to do for our fellow clinicians and our future clinicians.  And I’ll say it was interesting because it started probably back in the late 90s when I was working in a domestic domestic violence shelter. Wow. And.  I was working with these women and hearing their stories and probably worked there for about 12 to 18 months.

But then Lisa, I said, Nope, I’m out. I can’t do this anymore. And I just quit the field and I know all the way out. Yep. Oh, yeah. And it happens. Yes. And I took more of an administrative role on a college campus because that’s paperwork. That’s, you know, stuff I could do. And it was a little bit of crisis in there.

But looking back at that. I realized, I thought, you know what? I’m just burnt out. That’s what this is. But it was really more than being burnt out because it was real. What was happening was my world view was beginning to change, right? I was meeting with these women. They were telling me these stories about how wonderful their husbands were when they first met with them.

And then something bad happened. The abuse started and we talked about the cycle of abuse. So here I was, my young 20, Self trying to find a partner and having these same thoughts in the back of my head. Oh my gosh What if this happens to me? What if this happens to me? I’m finding myself being really really cautious So I think that was the first time but I didn’t recognize it.

Like I said as vicarious trauma, right? And then the second time, uh, was I became a rape crisis counselor and yes,  and so here I was, and this is much later on. This is actually when I was doing my doctoral internship  and here I was hearing these stories and I have to say between the first being the domestic violence, um, counselor and the sexual assault advocate, I will say that there was probably about  went to years in there, right?

So I had worked on myself. I had got myself good therapy. I had great coping skills and I’m in my doctoral program about to finish up and just have this internship left to do. And then I get smacked realizing, Oh, something’s happening here. I’m bringing my clients home with me. Not literally. Right. Uh, and so I would hear these stories, uh, little children who are abused.

Um, And I would come home and I was very hypervigilant when my kids weren’t around me. And I didn’t notice it at first until my son kept saying, Mom, why are you asking me this? Why are you asking me this? And then I realized, wow, I’m really leaning into him and asking him these questions. Yeah. And then my older two daughters were teenagers at the time.

And you know, they wanted to go out and do teenage things, go to the malls.  I remember being so anxious because I had heard these stories of men following young girls around in the malls and assaulting them in bathrooms. So I wouldn’t even allow my 16 and 18 year old daughters to go to the mall without me.

Right. And I was using the Life 360 app and I was constantly on it. And luckily for me, and you’ll see this as a theme throughout our conversation for sure, my supervisor sat me down and said, Lisa, what’s going on? I’m noticing you’re, you’re not as fully focused as you have been in the past. You seem to be a little bit short with us.

And  I remember just crying and thinking, Oh my gosh, she’s right. I am experiencing some of these same symptoms that my clients are experiencing. Right.  Uh, but you don’t realize it when you’re in it,  right? I did.  Yeah. So she was wonderful because she helped me to. To work through it all and finish my doctoral internship.

Without harming anybody, you know,  yeah,  yeah,  it’s such a, it’s such hard stuff and it’s so real. Um, but first to, I mean, I, I want to acknowledge what happened. It sounds like in the very beginning of your career, I mean, you had an experience that I think is unfortunately very common. And one of the big reasons why I started doing this podcast.

I think that when clinicians go into situations like that, the domestic violence of center where you were in and, and they don’t really have enough support to know what’s happening. It feels like the only way to save themselves is to flee the profession, which is really such a tragedy because as you know, I mean, there’s, there’s a real, a problem with not having enough therapists.

to meet the demand of all of these people. And so what we have is, is, you know, young, sincere, eager, little new counselors going off to like do great things. And then they are just incinerated by some of these things without support. And they’re like,  maybe I’ll go into an administrative position with nothing wrong with that.

But I just want to like, um, Uh, you know, just give you recognition and respect for doing a full circle and coming back into the field, like coming back into the ring because a lot of people don’t, they’re like,  no, thanks. I’m going to nope right on out of here because I don’t ever want to do that. I don’t want to hear that again in my life, you know, because it’s so hard.

It’s so hard. Um, and just, you know, you’re, you’re bringing up the fact that it, it really does impact us personally. At least it can, you know, like the, the stories that you absorb, the other people’s memories that are now like banging around in your head and the hyper vigilance that, that gets focused onto your life and your family and your, your kids to the point where.

Um,  it can begin to create negative consequences for our own lives, but we don’t even realize that it’s happening. It can be so insidious.  So, yes. And I think one of the things I tell my students all the time is I use this as an example. I say, all right, so if I told you a story about a little girl who’s in a black and red plaid dress.

And she’s holding a bright orange balloon, and she’s standing in front of a school bus, and it’s lightly raining, and there’s a giraffe standing behind the school bus. What are you picturing? Yeah. I see it. Yes. Right. And then I say, so take that and then apply the stories that your clients are telling you.

Our brain says, Oh, this is important. Lisa’s saying something important. I better store this. Create an image.  Right. And then if it’s a traumatic image, our brain stores it in a different place in our brain, which makes it even harder to pull out. But it comes out in our subconscious. It can come out  as PTSD symptoms.

It can come out in our sleep and in different ways. And it takes somebody to sit back and go, something’s going on here. And I always say vicarious trauma happens because we care.  Because we care. Totally. You are. We are sitting with people. They are telling stories and, and their traumatic memories are often quite detailed and quite vivid.

It was a red and blad. Plaid dress and there was an orange balloon and we are seeing the things and creating these mental images. And, you know, the, the feeling part of our brain, unfortunately, can’t tell the difference between things that we’re visualizing and things that are actually happening. And these.

These stories themselves and the memories that we now have of the event that has been told to us  create trauma inside of ourselves. It’s 100%.  Ugh.  So we have a lot to talk about here, but I’m just so glad that you’re here. Talking about this with your, your students and, and I think preparing them mentally and emotionally, um, I think  one of the most important things for clinicians to be thinking, well, to probably, you know, um, to be aware of situations where they can become traumatized, not that,  Not that we also don’t get surprised.

I mean, we’re just sitting there minding our own business in a therapy session. I was like, ah, you know, I mean, like that happens, but to just kind of like, um, prepare themselves for how to manage some of these moments,  but also to recognize when there has been impact inside of themselves so that they can take action.

So there’s like two, two pieces of that. Maybe we could tackle these one at a time.  Sure. Yeah. And it’s funny because this is what usually happens. People will begin to tell me symptoms that they’re burnt out. And I’ll say there’s a big difference because yes, burnout can make us susceptible to vicarious trauma,  but vicarious trauma really is when our worldview begins to change.

Right. Right. And so I used the example of, um, when I was working at the rape crisis center, I would go out with my friends and I would walk around with my drink and put my hand over it. And I would constantly give them the drink to my friends and say, watch this while I go to the bathroom, watch this while I go to the bathroom.

And they laughed it off. They’re like Corbin, whatever. But what I was realizing is my worldview was changing. I thought I was safe in this club with my friends, but I had heard all of these stories about these young women who were, you  slipped to them. So my world view changed. My behaviors changed because of these stories that I’m hearing.

The symptoms can look similar to burnout, but usually they’re a bit more serious than burnout. Mm hmm. Definitely. Well, so how, just, just for our listeners, because, you know, and as we know, burnout is also a very real occupational hazard that we also talk about on the show, but what would you think, say, are really the differences?

So, so I, I hear what you’re saying, like worldview, you, you have different perceptions of what is going on in the world outside. You expect different things from other humans. You worry about things, maybe you do. Are there other differences? for you between that burnout and, and trauma and, um,  Yeah, vicarious trauma.

Yes. Um, another way that example I use is if you’re burnt out, think about it, right? I could go away. I could handle the burnout symptoms on my own. Vicarious trauma usually takes somebody else to help you through that journey. And that could be a supervisor. It could be your own personal therapist. Um, and sometimes for me, it can be my, my group of, um, women who I went through my doc program with, who I will text or one of us will text and say, Hey, I just had a rough session.

Can we meet, you know, for 20 minutes or so? So vicarious trauma typically takes somebody else to help you process some of what had happened.  Yeah, definitely. Gosh, I’m having the most vivid memory right now. I was in my, my doctoral internship and I had a session with a client who just, told me some things that  seared into my brain, like just that, and,  you know, was having intrusive thoughts about the, I mean, just, it was very, very upsetting.

And I remember it was, I was in internship. And so we were in an internship class, like yes, people sitting around the table.  And thankfully a woman in my cohort, her name was Erica, very, very awesome woman, uh, happened  Exploring EMDR techniques at the time and to this internship class had brought some of her equipment.

She had two of the EMDR, like the buzzy eggs that you hold in your hands. Like you can do EMDR in a lot of different ways, but she was like, Lisa hold the eggs  and I held the eggs and I thought about the session and I felt so much better. So I just want to like validate what you’re saying. Like you almost need somebody to intervene and because it’s just banging around in your head and you can’t escape from it.

Yeah. Yes. And I think you, it’s a really great point too, because if you think of it,  how courageous of you to bring it up in class that this was sticking with you. Because I think so many clinicians think, Oh, I have to have my stuff together. I’m a therapist. I have to have my stuff together. I can’t go see therapy because I’m giving therapy.

And yet. That happens to be one of my specialties that people come to me for is therapists who need counseling. And I think totally we have to normalize that. We have to normalize it because  clinicians  usually have experienced something in their life where that helps them to empathize and understand people because they might have experienced something similar,  which means that they are already.

susceptible to burnout and vicarious trauma. So why not help yourself by acknowledging, Hey, this is what’s happening right now. I’m experiencing these symptoms of vicarious trauma. I’m feeling hopeless or numb. Um, or people are, are, are calling me out on some of my behaviors.  Yeah, definitely. Well, and that’s, that’s so good to bring up because I think, you know, well, even both of the examples that we were bringing up were happening during, um, our own experiment.

Yeah, definitely. Educational programs, you know, and internships. And I, I think that there is a culture  in, in there that, you know, you are here to develop. You don’t have everything all figured out. Like there’s, that’s the norm of that,  um, developmental stage, I guess. And I think you’re right. Especially as you get further into your career, maybe you’re, you know, like clinical supervisors or, or therapists or teachers, you know, professors have our own clients and, and there’s a sort of subtle.

thing, like you should have this figured out. Whereas, I mean, the, Oh, I just, my, my video just gave me,  there’s something going on with my laptop right now. I could, I could probably make it rain if I gave it a thumbs down,  but anyway, um, but that I, I really do think that our, our work. Here is to normalize it to say, this isn’t like a maybe kind of thing that’s going to happen.

It will happen. It’s part of the experience. It needs to be acknowledged. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong. It means that you’re, you’re doing it. You are having this career is why you’re feeling this way. So like to make it okay, as opposed to staying hidden or feeling shameful, because that’s when it gets,  Yes.

Yeah. I agree. And I think that’s when we open ourselves up to doing harm, right? Yeah. Well, say, say more about that. I mean, if a, if a clinician was like, no, I’m fine. Everything is fine, you know, and not really like letting in the possibility that they might need support. What are some of the things that you’ve seen happen because of that?

Yes. So I’ve not only seen it happen, but it’s also out in the literature as well, which is  it can truly impact our ability to deliver quality care to our clients. Think about it, right? So if we are feeling hypervigilant, if we are feeling overwhelmed, um, We might engage in a negative coping skill. We might drink more.

We might, um,  not use some of our coping skills.  We might be  foggy. We might not be fully present. And then we might be, because of all that, we might call out more, which means our clients aren’t getting  continuing care, right? Continuous care.  I think the other way that, uh, both the research says and how I’ve seen it play out is  when I watch a tape of one of my students.

And, um, their, their client will say something pretty serious and the student will change the topic.  And that’s because probably subconsciously the brain is saying, we’re overwhelmed. Don’t talk about that. We can’t take that on on top of everything else that we have going on. Change the subject. And when we change the subject, we’re overwhelmed.

Running the session and not allowing the client to run the session exactly that are our needs our emotional needs in that moment are taking the priority and there’s avoidance for us rather than bravely going into what our client actually needs because we’re trying to protect ourselves is what you’re saying.

Yeah, I think sometimes to can happen because when we become numb, we might be less empathetic. And then, you know, every single theory that’s out there says you can’t that no theory works unless you have some sort of a connection and that connection is built on empathy and understanding the client. 

Right. Right.  Uh, my, my tenure in community, uh, community mental health agency was relatively brief. I was there for my psychology internship  and I met amazing people. I mean, really like angels on earth who were so dedicated to the wellbeing of people. Um,  but also encountered some clinicians who I, I think Um,  had become very, very hardened over the years, probably at a large part because they were traumatized and didn’t really get the care that they need,  but their attitude was very unkind  towards many of their clients.

And it was, it was hard to be around.  And that was me as a colleague. I mean, can’t imagine, you know, to have, to have, uh,  and probably a vulnerable person given the population of that community mental health center and being like, that’s your therapist. Right. And unfortunately what you’re saying is very common. 

Do you think that there’s an ethical responsibility for therapists who encounter professional colleagues who are unwell to. You know, when you see something, say something, do something, try to intervene and do you have any guidance for that? Because that’s,  that’s a tough one. I mean, it’s one thing, I guess, if it’s like a peer, but what if it’s even a supervisor or. 

What would you do in that situation? Yeah, that’s a tough one. Um,  but you know, it goes, any of the code of ethics says that we have to address it, right? We have to address colleague impairment. And for me, fortunately it was role modeled through that supervisor during my doctoral internship, where she took it from, uh, she was concerned for me and she really took that approach where she was saying, Lisa, I’m just really concerned for you.

And she had some, um.  I should identify some of the behaviors so that I was able to just sit back and think, yeah, that is kind of not like me.  And, you know, one of the things that I remember actually from working with women who were, um, at the domestic violence shelter was they might not always.  You know, leave their situation in that moment, but leave them with some literature, leave them with a resource.

And I’ve used that throughout my life. And that’s, that’s what I would do. I would say, Hey, look, this is just me coming to you with this concern. Here’s why. Here’s some of the behaviors. But also here’s  a resource for you  because I think at times our first, some people’s first inclination might be to become defensive,  right?

That’s not me. I’m not like this, but if you come at it with, with a care and concern, leave them some resources. Hopefully that person will be able to sit back and  hear what you have to say. And take it in.  Yeah, totally. It just that, um, you know, respect for the fact that that being confronted in the moment can sort of elicit that like, No, I’m not, you know, kind of reaction, but to leave something  with people so that when they can kind of calm down, have a quieter moment, um, maybe consider it in a different way. 

Yeah. Mm-Hmm. . Mm-Hmm. , definitely one or two. You know, just  talking about our own personal stories. I, I think like sharing a,  here’s what happened to me when I became aware that I had been vicariously traumatized. Um,  I, I wonder sometimes if that personal  disclosure, it makes it  feel.  Like less of a, an accusation and more of like a,  so there’s this thing that happens to us  and it might be happening to you that that piece, um, it might, it might make it feel safer. 

I agree wholeheartedly, you know, just this week, um, a student had come to me and said, Dr. Corbin. I know my, um, unfortunately, my best friend died while I was writing my dissertation and she, right? And so the student comes to me and says, you had shared this and shared the impact it had on you. My grandmother just died.

Here are my fears. What do I do? How do I combat? Some of what’s happening to me as I’m listening to other people’s stories, some of which involve grief. So I, I think you’re right. Once we put it out there, people are listening. And especially if you respect the person who’s saying it right, they’re going to go, I can go to them.

They are, they, they, they know how to, um, hold both worlds. Yeah, definitely.  Yeah. Make it, make it safe to  Say to themselves and to others that this is happening for me.  Yeah.  So this, this is a tough one, but I am curious to know, um, if you have over the years practiced any kinds of strategies or, or things that you do in your own therapy sessions or that you teach your students for ways of being in the room with clients.

That can serve two purposes. I mean, obviously help you stay present in the ring, not avoid it, not dismissive, those things, but also offer some kind of almost energetic protectiveness so that you can be in this moment in a safer way  than just the raw exposure that really can lead to some pretty significant traumatization. 

Do you, do you have anything in your back pocket?  Of course I do. And it’s funny, right? Because you mentioned your time and community behavioral health where it’s, it’s back to back sometimes, right? And you’re like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t even eat. I didn’t have time to go to the bathroom, you know? So I think one of the things that the field is facing is we better take care of counselor burnout because we’re going to lose people like you had shared earlier.

Oh yeah. And, um, I do, I have a couple of strategies for folks, and of course, one of them comes with a great story. I, uh, when I was doing my master’s, uh, internship, my supervisor came to me and said, uh, we need someone to run the meditation group. So you go in Corbyn. And I said, me? I’m from, I’m from New York.

I’m from Long Island. We do everything. We don’t do that. Right? I’m like, we do everything in 2. 2 seconds. When I moved here, I remember the person like checking me out at the food store was going too slow. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, it’s so slow here. Where are you now?  When I was in the food store and someone was like checking me out, you know, like they were part of the world.

This is sorry. I apologize.  Uh, Pennsylvania.  I’m a New Yorker and now I live in Pennsylvania. And, uh, I’ll tell you, I looked at her and I me running a meditation group. No, And she goes, well, we need it. So I started off going in and just playing meditations on my phone and half the clients fell asleep. The other, who knows what they were doing? 

And my supervisor watched and she goes, no, this isn’t what we want. We want you to go to this two day training on mindfulness meditations. And I said, again,  you’re going to put me with all those hippies. I was so very judgmental. Right. Uh, and I said, I’m not sure this, so not me. And then she goes, look, we’ll pay for it and you can have the days off.

So I said, fine, I’ll go do this training. And I did the training and I felt my body was starting to really, um,  experience some of what you experience when you do mindfulness. But it wasn’t until I went home and the week or two after where I was noticing my body was much more aware that I was becoming anxious.

So I was able to use the grounding techniques before they, the volcano erupted, for lack of better terms.  So  one of the things I tell all of my supervisees is,  Learn  a way to ground yourself and be open to mindfulness meditations and just mindfulness in and of itself  because  We are trained to step a foot or one foot in the client’s world, but keep one foot in our world.

Right. But vicarious trauma sometimes is whenever we have both feet in their world. So we have to pull ourselves back. And one of the best ways we can pull ourselves back is by grounding ourselves in the moment.  Um, and I tell my, uh, supervisees and my students all the time, I say, you know I  will say, Hey, Lisa, thanks for coming today.

You know, I’m starting every session today with a quick two minute mindfulness, um, for you, but it’s really for me, but I’m going to say that it’s for the client. It’s good for everybody. Yeah, that’s right. Yep.  Mindfulness tends to really work in grounding techniques really work.  Um, gosh, you know, when it comes to self care.

I am a big fan of find what works for you and keep it short because I think we get so overwhelmed sometimes thinking, should I be doing a one hour yoga? Should I be doing an hour long meditation?  I do chair yoga for two minutes. I will get up. I will stretch when I was at the rape crisis center. One of the things that I did that really helped was in between clients, I would get up and go to the bathroom and wash my hands.

Yeah. And be like, okay, I’m washing this client off of me. I’m fine. You know, and then it would help me to just go out and feel a little bit like, okay, that client’s there. Let me come back, um,  because I don’t think we have enough transitions in our lives, right? We just go, go. We’re so fast. Yeah. And so even just finding a transition for how you can get from one place to the next, is it, you know, um, walking a quickly around the block before you get in your car to go home?

Is it watering my plants? That’s, you know, I tried to water my plants at the end of every day and just bring life and remind myself that there is life outside of here. Um, yeah, I think it really is whatever works for the person.  Yeah. The hardest part probably has to be actually the hardest part of being a clinician, right?

Which is  acceptance that we’re not going to be able to help everybody.  Um, I had a client, clients often say to me,  what’s the hardest part of your job? And I’ll say the hardest part of my job is seeing something in my clients that they don’t see.  Because I want them to see it so badly, but sometimes their eyes are closed to it, like a positive thing.

Yes, of course, of course. Yeah. Um,  and so we have to accept that they might not be ready to see it at that moment, or we have to accept that they’re not ready to deal with whatever it is that they came to us with at that moment. Definitely one and that that in itself can be so traumatic for us as well that that somebody has lived through so many difficult things that it really has, um,  damaged their ability to feel okay about themselves in basic ways.

I mean, that’s such a tragedy. You know, so there’s the traumatic events, but there’s also like the macro. Um,  but I heard you say that something that has been very helpful for you and that you teach our students are really related to these, these physical rich rituals of clearing, uh, of cleansing, hand washing, standing up.

You know, I’ve, I’ve talked with counselors before between sessions, they’ll, they’ll stand up and they’ll spin around three times just to like, you know, physically shake it off. And, and, um, I’ll say, you know, the grounding exercises that you talked about, the, the meditation, like that being here now in your body, what do I see, what do I hear, what do I feel?

Um, and I think that that, that’s a very, very helpful strategy because, um, You know, the, the things that traumatize us, they are not actually things that are happening. Their thoughts,  they are thought transmissions is what it is. And so the, the degree to which we can stay in the physical, that that is protective.

Um, whereas if we, we slide all the way into those thoughts and memories is when we can get, get in trouble. Yeah. Getting stuck in that muck for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. That’s really helpful. Okay.  So,  um, other, other tips, so, you know, if, if there are, um,  recognition, I mean, we’ve all been there. I certainly have there, you know, more, more than one time that there was a one time Erica with a buzzy eggs that helped, but you know, other, other times that I’ve been in this situation, you know, I, I too have had.

be like, I think I need to do something about this. Um,  what, what can we therapists do to support each other? And certainly there is like getting into formal treatment with a clinical supervisor, with a therapist who can like help. Be with us trauma, but you know, as peers, as colleagues and consultation groups in that, like, Hey, I just had a hard session.

Do you have 20 minutes to talk? What are the things that we can all do to help each other process some of this and kind of move back towards health when we’ve been exposed to things that can be damaging. Yeah. And I think  this podcast is front and center if you think of it, right? Because we have to start talking about it before, uh, because people don’t recognize that we don’t talk about it, infuse it into those supervision, supervision sessions, check in with people, not just about their, their clients.

Um,  But say, how are you doing after hearing that story? Yeah. Uh, and it was so funny cause it couldn’t have happened in a,  I’ll say better time for lack of better words. But just last night I had a supervisor reach out to me and say that she had a rough session and, um, it involved a mother leaving a child home alone for quite a bit.

And she goes, I just keep picturing this young boy. I just keep picturing this young boy. And you said it. And you hit the nail on the head. It’s an image. So I said, well, then pull that image back up. And she’s like, why? And I’m like, watch me here, but pull that image back up. What would you have wanted to do in that moment?

Give him a hug, imagining yourself giving him a hug. And then like setting him free and letting him go. And, um, relate it back to that, that image. Just, you know, letting it go. I think for a lot of people too, this is where they lean into.  I was just thinking the same thing that you almost have to have us, but not,  not that you have to, to be an atheist is completely valid.

I don’t want to respect anybody’s like belief system. However, to have something to go to in those moments, boy, is it powerful. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. So finish your thought. I got excited when you said spirituality. So please, please continue.  No, no, no, no.  I think for some people it’s that whole, um,  I’ve done what I can do now.

Yeah. It’s, I have to put it out into the universe, you know? Right. So, uh, when I used to work at this inpatient facility for men, you know, they were, and they were in recovery, so a lot of times I would come in on a Monday morning and someone might have overdosed, some, a couple of them might’ve left, and, uh, for me, I would just put it out there and say, please take care of him.

I had a, a colleague of mine who had. At the end of every day, she would, you know, say a prayer in her office for her clients, not with them in there, but she would say, please oversee them. Um, because at that point you feel so helpless, right? Right. When you can’t help them and they have, they have made a choice that might not be in their best decision. 

Yes, absolutely. And to  invoke some kind of higher power to help somebody that you are well aware that you can’t, um, and, and again, it could be a spiritual practice. I know that, uh, you know, there have been times like imagining that child, you know, that neglected child alone in the crib screaming, like in order to manage that memory, like, let’s.

You’re, you’re in a bubble of pink light, like there’s love in the moment. I’m, I’m putting an imaginary teddy bear into that crib with you. Like it’s because it’s,  it’s, it’s, it’s for us. We have to like rework the memory somehow to feel like there’s, um,  some, some way of helping. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. Wow.

Um, there was something else that I was about to ask you and I forgot what it was, but, but this is, this is a very good strategy. So normalizing it, talking about it, also having strategies to rework the memories so that you can, you know, sort of process it by, by shifting the memory inside of yourself and doing that with somebody can be really helpful.

Oh, I remember what I just wanted to bring this up, but I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but.  Going back to, I think one of the things that can be an obstacle for therapists in, um,  addressing some of this, I remember there was one time I was exposed to something that was just deeply Traumatizing to me.

It was just one of the most horrifying things I’d ever heard. And of course it was like that visual like scar thing. And I remember talking to some colleagues and saying, I am, I’m dealing with vicarious trauma right now, but I don’t want to tell you what it is because I’m afraid that if I say this  then you will be traumatized.

By this, this memory that I’m now holding, and it was so interesting because, um, one of the people that I was talking to said, you know, sometimes the things that impact us to a large degree, when we say them to other people, it doesn’t actually impact them to the same degree. Like it’s your memory. So why don’t you tell me about it? 

Uh, you know, at least to a degree and then I’ll tell you how it goes. And so I, I told them, you know, in fairly broad strokes, what this, this thing was. And they’re like, yeah, that’s pretty bad. But I didn’t just get traumatized by you telling me that. And that really helped me because I was like afraid to tell anybody because I didn’t want to harm somebody else.

Like I’m like, I had to contain it. Does that make sense? Or I don’t know if you’ve ever. Yeah. Um, absolutely. And even when I was preparing for today’s talk, I, I had to say, be careful. You don’t want to share stories that can be, you know, to, to, um, detailed, uh, and that same thing. I had a supervisee a couple of weeks ago say, um, I’m going to tell you the story, but I’m so sorry because you’re, it’s probably going to get stuck with you.

And what we were able to do in that supervision session, Lisa was, we were able to go back and she was saying, Oh my gosh. I think this child is acting out something that I, that happened to me and I had forgotten about and that’s why it was really impacting me, but it didn’t impact me as much because I didn’t have that early childhood experience like she did.

Got it. The part of the reason that she had been so impacted was because there was a vulnerability that was unique to her in some ways that she hadn’t been aware of. But that when she shared it to you, then there was a sense of, Visibility that, you know, you were able to hold it for her and not be impacted in the same way. 

Is that it? Yeah. Yes. Wow. So powerful. But again, I mean, go going back to your point that we need to do this in community, that we need to have a partner that when we’re in isolation and it’s just banging around in our own heads, like we,  you can’t get away from it. We, we need help to move these things around. 

Yeah. Well,  is there anything else that you would like to, to share, you know, for, uh, a therapist who’s listening to this, who might be, you know, suffering right now, last words of advice,  you know, um, There are assessments online that you can take if you’re, if you’re one of those people who are listening to this and saying, Oh my gosh, is that me?

Um, Do you have a favorite one you can share with me after, after we finished this recording? I’ll put it on the post. Great, great, great. Yes. I think, um, I’ll share that with you. And, um,  I think it’s the awareness, right? Just like what we say to our clients, it really is.  The more we can be aware of what’s happening to us inside us, and that’s gonna, and we can listen to our bodies.

And our friends and our supervisors, um, the better humans that we can be.  Definitely got to tune in. Wonderful.  Well, Dr. Lisa Corbin, thank you so much for spending this time with me today. And, um, if, if our listener would like to learn more about you or your work, where would they go?  Um, they can go one of two places.

They can go to a psychology today and just look me up, Lisa Corbin,  or they can, um, go to PCOM’s website.  Wonderful. PCOM. edu. P C O M. edu.  Well, Dr. Corbin, this has been such a pleasure to speak with you today. I know a challenging topic, but an important conversation. And so I am just very grateful for your time and your expertise.

Um, thank you for doing this with me. Same here. Same here.

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