Supervision and Practice

Organisations are increasingly understanding the importance of supervision, reflective practice and defusing/debriefing processes in the workplace. Staff wellbeing is an important focus of organisational support particularly when working with trauma. Teams can utilise our trauma-informed supervision and practice services to enhance their wellbeing plan and mitigate the risks and impacts of vicarious trauma.

Understanding Stress Outcomes: What is Vicarious Trauma?

Woman looking off into the distance

“The transformation of the helper’s inner experience as a result of empathetic engagement with a survivor and their trauma..”
“Simply put, when we open our hearts to hear someone’s story of devastation or betrayal, our cherished beliefs are challenged, and we are changed.”

Gilmore, J (2011) Vicarious Trauma: A Reflective Practice Approach

Vicarious trauma (VT) is ‘the negative transformation in the helper that results (across time) from empathic engagement with trauma survivors and their traumatic material, combined with a commitment or responsibility to help them’ (Pearlman and Caringi, 2009, 202-203). The greater the exposure to traumatic material, the greater the risk of vicarious trauma. People who work in services to which people with traumatic histories present seeking help, or who work with traumatic material are at particular risk. This includes but is not limited to people working in health, mental health, housing, law enforcement, legal, emergency services and family services.

Just as PTSD is perceived as a normal reaction to an abnormal event, VT can be understood as a normal reaction to the stressful experience of multiple exposure to traumatic material (McCann & Pearlman, 1990). According to Saakvitne et al. (2000) the most important element in trauma work is the attention paid to the experience and to the needs of the helper. No-one cannot meet the needs of clients when they are overriding their own.

Anyone working with people affected by trauma or with traumatic material can benefit for understanding more about vicarious trauma, how to recognise the risks early and manage them.

To learn more about vicarious trauma and other stress outcomes, see our training calendar here or alternatively speak to us about training for you and your team. Learn more about what we offer here.

Vicarious Resilience and Transformation

“the process of integrating a larger understanding of the human condition and humanity as a result of facing the truth and impact of traumatic events… a positive transformation in the self of the therapist or other trauma worker that comes about through empathetic engagement with the traumatized people we attempt to assist, their courage and their struggles, their losses and sorrow, and active engagement with the changes in ourselves that come about in response to that work, our VT.”

(Pearlman and Saavitne, 1995)

Vicarious transformation is an ongoing, intentional process engaged in by workers that results in a deepened sense of connection with others, a greater appreciation of one’s own life and an enhanced sense of meaning and hope. Vicarious resilience, as articulated in resilience theory is the vicarious learning process related to the positive adaptation to the effects of clients’ ability to cope with adversity. According to Walsh (2016), resilience is the ability to withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges: it involves dynamic processes which foster a positive adaptation in the context of significant adversity.

When mitigating the impacts of working with trauma Blue Knot suggest a continuous cycle of learning, including training, reflection, supervision and practice enhancement. Services in addition to training are needed to support a continuous cycle of deeper learning so as to embed trauma-informed change. Becoming trauma-informed is a process of progressing through a number of stages which include becoming trauma aware, trauma sensitive and trauma responsive.  

Blue Knot’s supervision and practice services support this process by providing opportunities to apply the learning, deconstruct current perspectives and practices and engage in a supportive and self-reflective processes.

Trauma-informed supervision offers a space to explore the impact of stress outcomes and to build the capacity for vicarious resilience. It also offers the chance to reflect on where, within our own circle of influence, we can influence change within an organisation.

Trauma-Informed Supervision

Blue Knot’s trauma-informed supervision provides supervision through a trauma-informed lens for people who work regularly with complex trauma clients. The aim of the sessions is to provide supervisees with an opportunity to debrief, recognise and respond to vicarious trauma, and explore tips and strategies which support optimal communication practices and interpersonal connections with people they support.

Those who may benefit from trauma-informed supervision are:

  • Private practitioners working with adult survivors of complex trauma
  • Interdisciplinary teams working clinically with adult survivors of complex trauma and their families
  • Legal teams working with victims and witnesses of crime
  • Workers supporting clients with past and/or present traumas
  • Practitioners and teams from legal, health, mental health and human services in government, non-government, public and private sectors

Blue Knot trauma-informed supervision can be integrated into ongoing practice support for staff to maintain best practice and self-care.

Our sessions are held monthly via Zoom with 4-6 participants per group, generally run over 90 mins but can be offered for 60 mins also.

Reflective Practice

Reflective Practice work is recommended to integrate the key elements and learnings from Blue Knot training and apply them into practice.

The sessions focus on how to apply the trauma-informed principles of Safety, Trustworthiness, Choice, Collaboration and Empowerment.

The sessions can help the team to identify areas of practice for particular focus to support the development of new approaches and procedural changes. Blue Knot can also package six sessions of reflective practice with any of our foundational training programs.

Reflective Practice Cycle

Own experience

Previous knowledge and experience inform current practices.

Observe and reflect

Existing knowledge and perspective are used to reflect and review.

Apply new ideas, thoughts and information

Apply new learnings and then critically reflect, which can lead to changing assumptions or achieving new perspectives.

Identify learnings and possibility for change

Understand the learnings from enacting them in practice to create new approaches or perspectives.

Defusing and Debriefing

Defusing and debriefing of experiences and incidents are informal and formal processes that can be utilised to support staff and teams.

Often defusing and debriefing occur where there have been major changes in organisations, traumatic incidents that impact teams or specific cases that leave a lasting impact. Understanding how to support staff whether you are a manager/leader or a colleague within a team is important. This includes managing vicarious trauma within the workplace and understanding how to manage the impacts of informal defusing and/or debriefing.

Despite good intentions retelling traumatic material with colleagues informally, without support in place, can cause teams and workplaces to become traumatised. Having structures in place for staff to access for defusing and debriefing is important.

The concept of debriefing is understood differently in different contexts. Our qualified supervisors can undertake planned debriefing sessions to unpack a difficult event or case to provide further support and strategies. Blue Knot does not provide crisis intervention debriefing.

Make an enquiry here to discuss your supervision and practice needs

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