Do you have a heart for people who have been through significant loss or trauma? Perhaps you are calm in a crisis? Ready to be present when others don’t know what to do? Perhaps you have experienced trauma and loss yourself, knowing the value of quality support when it is needed most?
Perhaps you are considering a career path as a crisis and trauma counsellor?
Trauma may be defined as “an experience that we have that overwhelms our capacity to cope” (Dan Siegal, NICABM Treating Trauma Master Series). Symptoms may be experienced following one single event, such as a natural event like an earthquake or fire. Or they may be experienced following abuse or assault. Trauma may come in the form of loss such as a loved one passing or moving away, financial loss, illness or disability.
Trauma symptoms can also be experienced after the repetition of events. Examples of this might include experiencing a lack of a consistent caregiver during childhood, or abuse such as domestic violence or child abuse (Blue Knot Foundation).
Be it from one event, or repetition of many, trauma can leave significant effects. Sometimes these effects may naturally reduce over time. Sometimes they begin to interfere with everyday life.
It is at this point that a crisis and trauma counsellor may be sought out.
Reasons that a counsellor may be required may not be straightforward or even seem trauma related at first. However, the counsellor may be required to help with issues such as (adapted from Blue Knot Foundation):
- Flashbacks, nightmares
- Panic attacks
- Feeling easily triggered and overwhelmed
- Difficulties sleeping and concentrating
- Feelings of depression, anxiety and/or suicide
- Relationship difficulties
- Sexual difficulties
- Physical impairments and illnesses
Counsellors trained in trauma and loss may learn the following skills in order to be able to assist clients (adapted from Blue Knot Foundation):
- Learning how to provide a space where they feel safe to talk. Trust can often be an issue and can take a long time to build.
- Understand the complex influences behind trauma triggers and symptoms. Sometimes talking to clients about attachment or neuroscience, for example, can help normalise symptoms for clients, empowering them to have some more control over what is occurring.
- Learn resources that can help clients begin to practically cope with and manage their symptoms
- Assist clients to begin to make meaning around what the trauma or loss means to them
- Understand attachment and relationship dynamics to assist them in developing safe boundaries and relationships
- Family or couple counselling skills to assist the relationships that may be affected by shared or individual trauma
- How to help clients hold hope for the future
Counsellors aiming for a career in crisis and trauma may also need to be prepared for the issue of ‘vicarious trauma’, where negative effects can occur following repeated empathic engagement with others’ trauma (Blue Knot Foundation). Counsellors are human as well, and it is inevitable that we may be impacted by the stories that we are hearing on a regular basis.
Some self-care advice if you are considering this career path
- Schedule in ongoing self-reflection and supervision. You will be triggered. You will be affected in some way. Be aware where you may be triggered and when something doesn’t feel right. Being honest with yourself and someone else about how clients are impacting you is not only helpful for yourself but so that you may continue to be effectively present with clients.
- Consider how many clients you will see in a day and how many in a week. Being a crisis and trauma counsellor can be an incredibly rewarding career, however, the nature and longevity of the work can also take a toll personally. Learn to work out a good balance for you (you may not always get it right by the way, hence the word…learn!)
- Get good at self-care. Like really good. Work out what feeds you and gives you real rest. You will need to have time out during the working day, during the week and regularly throughout the year. As per the previous point, work out the balance for you.
- Understand your own triggers and potential for burn out. Yes, I’ve already mentioned triggers, however, this is important! Listen to yourself in all the aspects that you are learning to listen to your clients – psychologically, emotionally, physically, relationally, spiritually….take stock and work out the areas that need some care and investment.
Becoming a Crisis and Trauma Counsellor can be a rewarding career path. The Masters of Counselling through Morling College offers Crisis and Trauma Counselling as one of the specialty subjects. Consider enrolling to find out more about how clients experience trauma and loss and how counsellors can be trained to assist.