A Holistic Approach to Secondary Trauma

by Lisa Pinney, Pittsburgh Transformation CenterSaveOne

Those involved in the work of caring for the traumatized or struggling, often do not see the slow growing signs of secondary trauma (STS) in their own lives. We are so focused on the person in front of us that we forget to pay attention to our own needs. Among helping professionals, the risk for secondary trauma increases if we have our own unresolved trauma. The difficult stories we regularly listen to also increase the possibility for compassion fatigue.

Many times, friends and family will notice the changes before we do. Whether we are like the proverbial frog slowly being boiled, in denial or just others focused, the impact takes its toll on us, our families, and the important work we do.

What Others See

  • sadness
  • anger
  • poor concentration
  • difficulty in making decisions
  • detachment
  • emotional exhaustion
  • absentee

What We Will Notice (even if we haven’t put the pieces together yet.)

  • intrusive thoughts
  • increasing anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • wanting to withdraw
  • numbing

If we do not want to be taken out of our callings prematurely, we must care for our whole being. Body, Soul, and Spirit.

There is so much out there in the way of self-care; but, like Paul, we do not always do what we should. I know I should take care of myself, but I do not. I know exercise reduces stress, but I hate to sweat. Our bodies tend to hold onto stress. That means we must find ways for our bodies to let go of the stress and trauma. Dr. David Bercelli developed Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises (or TRE®). TRE is a somatic process. These sweat free exercises help release tension and calm down the nervous system all without having to revisit a negative event.

Stress and trauma are also held in our souls and emotions. As Americans we spend a lot of time in our heads. We can talk with a good friend that holds space for us. We can seek out a professional. Both options help us process and care for our precious emotions. Why do I say precious? Because they are the very tools God has given us to be able to be compassionate, empathic ministers to the hurting in their time of need.

Last and most important is caring for our spirits. We are spiritual beings housed in a body and soul. If our soul is overwhelmed, our spirits have a more difficult time being nourished. In addition to our regular devotions, we all need ongoing encounters with a loving God if we are going to be who God created us to be and work with the hurting.

As a certified encounter coach and owner of Pittsburgh Transformation Center, I help others with anxiety and unprocessed trauma. I have watched God bring peace and rest to the clients I serve, by healing soul wounds and meeting the emotional needs of their hearts. I watch clients breathe freely and witness the relaxing of shoulders as God speaks to their innermost man. Tears may flow which indicate a letting go of distressing emotions and confusion as God meets them in very personal ways. It is so life giving. In my opinion, these tools are essential for everyone. But they are especially needed for those with unresolved trauma.

Recently, I was in a conversation with a woman and expressed to her that the tools for both trauma and secondary trauma are different. Reading, worship, and prayer are essential, but with trauma you need additional tools. These tools I speak of, heal the emotional heart, reviving us. This could be the missing link in self-care. Caring for our spirit could mean the difference between longevity or abandoning our callings.

Now try this: Think about your own anger. Are you wanting to withdraw or self-medicate? Are you numbing your difficult emotions? These are common responses to the stress and trauma we are experiencing. So, take time to get in touch with those tough emotions. Feel your feelings. Pay attention to your thoughts and the stories you tell yourself. Sometimes, what you are thinking is what is causing all the trouble. Instead of suppressing them bring them into the light where Jesus can illuminate. Ephesians 5:13 TPT says "Whatever the revelation-light exposes, it will also correct, and everything that reveals truth is a light to the soul."