When Helping Students Hurts: Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS)

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Woodbridge, M. & Nakamura, J. (2019, May 5). When helping students hurts: Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS). SRI Student Behavior Blog


I will never forget when our Student Behavior Research Team was presenting to a group of local teachers in 2015 about our research project examining the effects of a group-based intervention for middle schoolers experiencing traumatic stress. We intended to inform the teachers about the symptoms and consequences of students’ traumatic stress, the group process, and ways they could support both the study and their students. In the middle of the presentation, when I was describing the effects of trauma on students’ academic performance, a teacher stood up and loudly exclaimed, “But what about OUR trauma? Who is helping US?”

Without skipping a beat, the district’s lead social worker offered to talk with him and his colleagues about self-care strategies. I was, frankly, a bit stunned by the interaction and awed by our district colleague’s professionalism and prompt support. How had we not seen this coming? With our focus on the students and the research, were we neglecting the educators who are exposed to serious student trauma every day?

Since then, our researchers and clinicians have made a conscious effort to spread the word about secondary traumatic stress (STS)—the compassion fatigue many professionals experience when they work with individuals who have suffered from trauma—as well as the wealth of resources that are available to help. Although we are not experts on the topic, we believe it is important to contribute to this dissemination of resources by pointing our colleagues to more information about symptoms, organizational supports, and self-care strategies that can help our helpers heal themselves.

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