Counselors and other individuals in the helping profession play an important role in times of individual crisis such as violent crimes or mass crisis such as large-scale disaster situations by facilitating the diagnosis and treatment of pyschosocial disorders among populations that have been directly or indirectly traumatized by critical events. Gladding (2008, p. 246) notes that crisis counselling often involves incidents where there is a sense of loss or grief, and is therefore aimed at helping clients to regain a sense of normalcy in order to move on with their lives.
However, there are instances when counselors are adversely affected by their work with traumatized clients. Sexton (1999, p. 393) notes that counselors and therapists who are constantly exposed to “reports of trauma, horror, human cruelty, and extreme loss” become vulnerable to experiencing the “feelings of fear, pain and suffering similar to their clients” that ultimately affects their ability to provide counselling services. Among the issues that counselors face in the course of their crisis intervention efforts is the risk of countertransference and vicarious traumatization.
Countertransference refers to the counselors’ tendency to either avoid empathy or to overly identify with the client as a form of defense mechanim. Avoidance reactions are often manifested through the counselor’s “denial, minimisation, distortion, counter phobic reactions, detachment and disengagement from an emphatic stance” (Ibid, p. 394). In contrast, over-identification often leads into the overinvolvement of the counselor with the client’s experiences to the point that the counselor may feel idealize the client’s experiences and feel guilt for not being able to extend more help to the client (Ibid).
Consequently, countertransference often impedes the therapeutic relationship as the counselor’s fails to feel empathy for the client. Empathy is particularly important in crisis intervention as it enables the counselor to correctly assess the client situation and support the client with definitive action plans for recovery (Gladding 2008, p. 248). Without empathy, client welfare is compromised by the inability of the counselor to identify the client’s problems from the client’s perspective, which could lead to incorrect or inadequate support and action from the counselor.
Meanwhile, vicarious traumatization among counselors occurs as a result of the “accumulation of experiences across many therapy situations” (Sexton 1999, p. 395). Vicarious traumatization not only impacts the counselor’s helping relationships but also extends to other areas of his or her professional and personal life. The effects of vicarious traumatization include the development of anxiety and post-traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD) symptoms and other psychosocial disorders by the counselor. Unfortunately, majority of counselors are vulnerable to the risk of vicarious traumatization (Ibid, p.
396). Hence, those who work in the midst of large-scale crises events are clearly at a greater risk due to the scale of horror, loss, and cruelty that they are exposed to through indirect and direct experiences of their clients and themselves. Hence, the vicarious traumatization of counselors not only hinders them from functioning effectively in helping relationships but renders them unable to continue their relationships with clients as they become individuals in need of therapy and counselling themselves.
On the other hand, there are ways of reducing the risks of countertransference and vicarious traumatization. Sexton (1999, p. 396) note that counselors must engage in constant self-examination for the symptoms of crisis intervention issues in order to identify and resolve problems early by themselves or with the help of other counselling professionals. This ensures the counsellor’s assurance of his/her own psychosocial health which is important in safeguarding client well-being and interests.
Thus, it is important for counselors and other helping professionals to be aware of the proper handling of crisis intervention issues they may confront while in the process of helping others recover and rebuild their lives after a traumatic incident. Works Cited: Gladding, S. T. (2008). Counselling: a comprehensive profession. New Jersey: Merrill-Prentice Hall/Pearson. Sexton, L. (1999). Vicarious traumatisation of counsellors and effects on their workplaces. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 27(3):393-403.
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