May 9, 2007 — Stress is a part of any job, but for victims' advocates it can be extremely serious. Managing that stress was the subject of seminars held Tuesday and Wednesday on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Attendees came from various local agencies, including the Family Resource Center, the V.I. Police Department, Office of Corrections, Legal Services, Safety Zone and the Department of Education.
As the attendees know all too well, crime not only takes its toll on victims, but also those who provide them comfort, assistance and advocacy.
Many of the workers during Wednesday's seminar, sponsored by the U.S. Attorney's Office, work in positions that are stressful, psychologically demanding and can even involve matters of life and death.
Those providers experience stress because they are often dealing with multiple cases and victims. It can reach the point where that stress can affect job performance and health. Additionally, providers are also bound by confidentiality and are often unable to share their experiences or feelings with others.
These providers must often read reports for four or five hours a day. Because they deal with so many victims and witness the results of sometimes-horrific abuse or trauma, they need methods to avoid seeing victims as statistics, a condition called compassion fatigue.
The training session was the offspring of the April 22-28 National Crime Victims Rights Week and was presented by the Family Service Centers Inc. and the Regional Community Policing Institute based in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Seminar instructor Rhonda Sheared encouraged the providers to share stories and techniques for coping and relieving stress. Exercise, reading, faith, music and laughter were just a few of the strategies offered.
A series of tests were provided to determine the amount of stress in each attendees life and how they were dealing with it.
Stress is natural in ones life, said Sheared. She made a lengthy presentation laying out the unique stressors that result from victim advocacy and trauma work, the signs of stress and compassion fatigue, techniques to relieve that stress and how to address and prevent secondary post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sheared described the complex job nature of trauma workers and survivor advocates — having to be both tough and sensitive, strong and gentle, confident and critical, and dependent and independent. You people have very tough jobs, and you do them well, she said.
Later, many in the audience shared their stories and strategies for dealing with stress. Bonnie Roy, who works with both the Department of Education and the Family Resource Center, said, It is very helpful to share this time with colleagues. This is the first time I have been able to take advantage of this sort of event. In the past I have been too busy. She added that the real strength of the victim advocacy programs in the territory was in the established and well-connected network of caring professionals.
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