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How Napo is supporting Women Working With Women

Around 20 women members attended our training session , with Becky Shepherd, Senior Lecturer of Criminology, and a former probation officer.

Around 20 women members attended our training session held virtually this week, with Becky Shepherd, Senior Lecturer of Criminology at London South Bank University, and a former probation officer. This followed on from our first introductory session back in March on vicarious trauma based on her research of women working with women clients.

Becky asked how members present would define/describe vicarious trauma and explained some of the definitions used by organisations such as the British Medical Association and the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

There was a first workshop around ‘What does vicarious trauma feel like?’, ie what are some of the symptoms people could experience, such as: intrusive thoughts; nightmares; missing work; social withdrawal; avoiding traumatic disclosures from clients; negative coping skills, both personally and professionally; hypervigilance for your safety and the safety of loved ones; avoiding physical intimacy; increasingly pessimistic worldview; loss of work-related motivation; distancing from spiritual beliefs; reduced longevity in the field; stress-related medical conditions.

Becky went on to explain some of the risk factors for vicarious trauma:

Personal factors, such as: personal trauma history; pre-existing anxiety condition; pre-existing ‘mood disorder’ (depression); a high caseload of trauma-related situations with limited experience; suppression of emotions; distancing from clients.

But there could also be organisational factors, such as: bureaucratic constraints; inadequate supervision; a lack of support from colleagues; a lack of availability of client resources; an organisational culture that doesn’t acknowledge vicarious trauma.

Becky pointed out further though that there are additional gendered challenges, such as: the Workloads Measurement Tool seems inadequate for women’s work; it’s a bit like a postcode lottery, there seems to be inconsistency across the regions (hub, no hub, whole team, solo practitioner, manager trained or not trained in women’s work, contact with regional women’s lead or no contact; and the big one being women clients’ trauma and its manifestations.

Becky mentioned some examples of women clients’ trauma, such as: domestic abuse; sexual assault; childhood trauma; homelessness; bereavement; children taken into care; experience of being in care themselves; trafficked; sexual exploitation; severe mental health difficulties; very poor physical health; imprisonment.

She went on to explain that in relation to vicarious trauma some client responses to trauma were particularly relevant: there could be disorganised attachment – the way women clients relate to you, including over-attaching, being avoidant, being confrontational – making you reject them; there could be an explosive temper presentation – elevated fight or flight system; chaos-bringers – missed appointments, wrong times, dropping out of contact, turning up without an appointment, confusing information etc; splitting could happen – an unconscious process of pitting professionals against each other within the supervisory relationship, e.g. keyworkers, social workers etc. And many more.

In a next workshop, members discussed some of the types of behaviours that might have been seen or experienced in working with women that might relate to their trauma, and also strategies members may have used to work through this.

Becky went on to discuss a bit more about ‘Resilience’ and some of the research done around this and people were asked to give examples of what they may be doing to keep well.

In the final part of the training session some advice and guidance was given and discussed on where to get support, such as: ideally, your line manager; of course, anytime approach your local Napo rep/Napo equal rights rep or if you’re not aware of who this is to contact Napo HQ at info@napo.org.uk; ask your manager for a stress risk assessment at any time – this is a legal obligation and Napo can support you with this process; ask your region’s women’s lead about networks of support for women practitioners; fellow practitioners doing women’s work could be an invaluable resource; informal group networks in your region could be a thing, for example, if you are allowed staff WhatsApp groups on your work phones; there is the Employee Assistance Programme; and probably the Gold Standard would be having access to clinical supervision.

However, Becky pointed out that none of this might feel very possible if you are very ill, in which case you need to ask yourself if you should be at work, and to speak to your GP if you think you might need to be signed off sick. She reminded members that it is not your job to keep the Probation Service going no matter what cost to your own health!

The session finally touched upon some ideas for what a trauma-informed Service may look like to members, thinking about which forms of support you would like to have access to that would help you deal with vicarious trauma – or even prevent it.

An online evaluation form was sent to members who had registered an interest in attending and attended, asking about what action members would like to see from Napo on this issue.

We would like to thank Becky in working with us on this and hope all members that attended found it a useful and safe space to get information and support from each other and we are looking to hold further follow up events including an in-person fringe meeting with Becky at our AGM coming up in Nottingham 19-21st October at East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham. For more details to attend and to register, go to www.napo.org.uk/agm and do contact your branch for support to be able to attend.

If you are interested in more of these sessions, if you would like us to give you Becky’s details for more information and a chat, as well as other Women in Napo meetings and events, do join our network! Email Shireena at Napo HQ to get involved at ssuleman@napo.org.uk.

Annoesjka will also be attending the HMPPS ‘Championing Women in the Workplace’ Event in Birmingham on 25th July. If you are attending this also and would like to meet up with Annoesjka in a break if that is possible or after the event on the day, drop Annoesjka an email at avalent@napo.org.uk

We look forward to hearing from you or seeing you in person in Nottingham this October!

One Response

  1. This was a really good article! I do hope there will be more events , id really like to join one! Good to see napo is supporting women working with women

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