Thursday, January 22, 2009

Low Impact Disclosure...

Stories have great power, both to heal and to wound. When we hear and see difficult things in the course of our professional work or as we care for loved ones, we feel a natural desire to debrief the stories we've just heard. This debriefing helps us to diffuse the emotional impact of our work. However,  if we don't do it carefully, we run the risk of wounding those who take the time to listen to us.

In her 2008 article, Low Impact Disclosure - How to Stop Sliming Each Other, my friend and colleague, Francois Mathieu, describes how helpers can slime listeners inadvertently as we attempt to reduce the burden of our work.  When we debrief disturbing material, formally or informally, without asking permission or without thought to its impact on listeners, we can slime colleagues, family members, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers on the bus (!) with our stories. 

Research tells us that sharing graphic details of traumatic situations can spread psychological trauma effects to others and yet we need to tell our stories to keep ourselves well.  What's to be done?  

Authors, Laurie Pearlman and Karen Saakvitne, coined the term, "limited disclosure", in their book, Trauma and the Therapist, and that term later became, "low impact disclosure".  Low impact disclosure, (LID), is a strategy for limiting the impact of our stories on others.  It involves four steps:

1.  Increasing Our Self Awareness

Use self observation for a week to notice all the ways you debrief difficult material. Do you attend formal debriefings at work? Do you journal? Do you chat online? Do you talk over lunch in the cafeteria? Do you attend a support group? Do you share with people at conferences or workshops? Do you go for peer or professional supervision? Do you see a counsellor? Do you tell your spouse when you get home? Or your kids? What is the most helpful way for you to deal with painful stories?

2.  Giving Fair Warning Before Debriefing

Giving  fair warning that you have a difficult story to tell allows the listener to prepare him or herself for its impact.

3.  Obtaining Consent to Tell Our Stories

Francoise Mathieu suggests simply saying, "I need to debrief something with you.  Is this a good time?", or "I heard something really hard today...Could I talk to you about it?". This gives the listener the opportunity to decline or to set limits on the disclosure. For example, the listener might say, "I have fifteen minutes to listen but could you please tell me about it without all the gory details?" or "Is it about children (abuse, abandonment, a car accident, war or whatever is a trigger for you)? If it's about children, then I'm probably the wrong person to talk to, but otherwise I'm fine to listen."

4.  Low Impact Disclosure

Once you've received consent, you can decide how much to disclose. Francoise describes LID this way. "Imagine that you are telling a story starting with the outer circle of the story, (ie the least traumatic information), and you are slowly moving in toward the core, (the very traumatic information), at a gradual pace. You may, in the end, need to tell the graphic details, or you may not, depending on how disturbing the story has been for you."

 It is best to err on the side of more limited disclosure in social situations. Think to yourself, "Is this too much trauma information for this situation?"

Using LID is a simple strategy for reducing the harmful effects of difficult stories. We need not minimize our emotional responses but limiting "the gory details" of the story to an appropriate situation can save family, friends and colleagues  from unnecessary secondary traumatization.   



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