Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Journalists as First Responders...

Health care and allied professionals are not the only caregivers to feel the effects of traumatic stress in their work. What happens when journalists, as first responders, are thrust into the role of temporary caregivers, responding to calls for assistance, helping to find resources, calming wounded trapped under the rubble?

We have seen the effects of traumatic stress in the faces and stories of countless reporters, camera operators, drivers and translators over the past week in Haiti. They are as much at risk for Compassion Fatigue as are the medics and the rescue teams. Perhaps more so, in some ways, because they are not trained or equipped to actively save lives, causing profound feelings of helplessness. Apart from the trauma of being physically present in such a disaster, they also live with the ongoing conflict between the responsibility for doing their jobs, getting the story out, and actively participating in the rescue.

Fortunately, despite the machismo for which journalism is famous, there is a growing awareness of the need for CF prevention and resiliency within the field, an awareness championed by such organizations as the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a project of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Their excellent website is well worth a visit by any journalists affected by the tragedies upon which they report and also by those who love and support them.

As physician, Rachel Remen, MD, says:

The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss
daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able
to walk through water without getting wet. (1996)

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