In a recent Mandt Workshop, we were having a discussion about secondary trauma and the need to support folks who are experiencing it. As we talked about how staff members can be traumatized by the interactions they have with the individuals they serve, one of the participants lamented that supervisors do not always do the best job of supporting the folks they supervise. That sometimes after violent episodes, staff would request to be moved to a different area or would sometimes refuse to go back to the area where the violence occurred. Many in the workshop agreed that too often, these requests are not taken seriously. That supervisors would fail to recognize the safety needs behind such requests.

As I think about the times that I have been both the staff and the supervisor in these types of situations, I wonder if part of the reason this happens is because we don’t do a very good job debriefing with the people involved after an incident occurs. Don’t get me wrong, I think most organizations using the Mandt System probably do a decent job of processing after an incident. Asking important questions about what happened and what we can do better next time to prevent the incident from occurring again. What I do wonder is how often people are given the opportunity to talk about and process how they feel about what happened during the incident. Maybe this is an important part of the debriefing process that we are missing. If we could figure out how to do a better job at allowing folks to process their feelings about a particular incident, we may be able to lessen the impact of secondary trauma and compassion fatigue that so many folks who work in human services are susceptible to.

In the Mandt System, we talk about creating environments where the individuals we serve can say, “In this place, and with these people, I feel safe.” What if in our organizations we extended that concept to the way we support staff? I wonder if we did, we would see less employee turnover and more positive and affective interactions between staff and the people they serve.

Doug ZehrVogt, Mandt Faculty