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Ethical and Cultural Issues Arising from the Psychology of Terrorism

Section 4
Techniques for Treating Victims of Terrorism: Compassion Fatigue

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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Tool number four is a four-point compassion fatigue self-assessment tool. As you know, part of the psychology of terrorism is to erode the quality of life of the people attacked. As therapists, you may have experienced some erosion of your own lifestyle as you dealt with clients who are direct victims of terrorist attacks or who have experienced an exacerbation of symptoms, for example, regarding increased anxiety and increased depression. Codes of Ethics state that therapist’s self-awareness is essential. Let’s now look at four areas for you to assess.

Tool #4: Four-Point Compassion Fatigue Self-Assessment Tool

♦ Self-Assessment #1: Empathy Is a Major Resource for You to Help the Traumatized

The ethical principle of empathy is important in assessing the problem and formulating a treatment approach because the perspectives of the clients - including the victim’s family members - must be considered. According to Figley, research regarding secondary traumatic stress and secondary traumatic disorder suggests that empathy is a key factor in the induction and transference of traumatic material from the primary to the secondary "victim."

Thus, the process of empathizing with a traumatized person helps us understand that person’s experience of being traumatized, but in the process we may be traumatized as well. What decompression techniques do you use to separate from your clients’ feelings? Some therapists visualize that as the client leaves their office, their feelings of empathy that occurred during the session leave as the client physically exits their office, clearing emotional space for the next client. Ask yourself what specific technique do you use to decrease your emotional drain of empathy?

♦ Self-Assessment #2: You May Have Experienced Some Type of Traumatic Event
Since you may focus in your practice on a wide variety of traumatic events, it is inevitable that you would work with the traumatized who experienced events that are similar to those experienced by you. Ask yourself, is there a danger of my over-generalizing my experiences and methods of coping to my client and over-promoting these methods of coping or views of a situation?

For example, a crime-related traumatization may be very different from your experiences. Yet you may feel that they are sufficiently similar and, as a result, not listen as carefully as perhaps what is needed. Also, you may suggest what worked well for yourself, but which would be ineffective, or at worst inappropriate for your client. Ethically, client self-determination and autonomy need to be considered here. For this second self-assessment tool, think of a client who has had an experience similar to your own. Do you feel you perhaps unconsciously had been over-promoting a certain method of coping based on your own experience?

♦ Self-Assessment #3: Is There an Unresolved Trauma of Yours That May Be Activated by Your Client’s Reports of a Similar Trauma?
It is also possible that if you are a survivor from previous traumatic events, you may harbor unresolved traumatic conflicts. Their issues may be provoked as a result of the traumatic experiences of your client. Research confirms the power of past traumatic experiences on current functioning. Since we were all traumatized as a nation by the events of September 11th, was your unresolved trauma activated by your client’s reports of a similar trauma?

♦ Self-Assessment #4: Children’s Trauma, Which May Be Very Provocative for You
Police, fire fighters, EMTs, and other emergency workers report that they are most vulnerable to compassion fatigue when dealing with the pain of children. Moreover, you as a therapist are more likely than other practitioners to be exposed to childhood trauma. Ask yourself: did you deal with children during the time of the September 11th tragedy? If so, how did you manage this added stress?

In summary, ask yourself: am I in danger of experiencing compassion fatigue due to: 1. Over-empathizing, 2. Over-generalizing, 3. My own unsolved trauma, and 4. Children’s trauma?

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brugh, C. S., Desmarais, S. L., Simons-Rudolph, J., & Zottola, S. A. (2019). Gender in the jihad: Characteristics and outcomes among women and men involved in jihadism-inspired terrorism. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 6(2), 76–92.

Cohen, M., Gagin, R., & Peled-Avram, M. (2006). Multiple terrorist attacks: Compassion fatigue in Israeli social workers. Traumatology, 12(4), 293–301.

Ferguson, N., & McAuley, J. W. (2021). Dedicated to the cause: Identity development and violent extremism. European Psychologist, 26(1), 6–14.

Turgoose, D., & Maddox, L. (2017). Predictors of compassion fatigue in mental health professionals: A narrative review. Traumatology, 23(2), 172–185.

White, G. D. (2001). Near ground zero: Compassion fatigue in the aftermath of September 11. Traumatology, 7(4), 151–154.

Van Der Vegt, I., Marchment, Z., Clemmow, C., & Gill, P. (2019). Learning from the parallel field of terrorism studies. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 6(3-4), 202–209.

What are four ways trauma workers are especially vulnerable to compassion fatigue? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 5
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