Using Psychoeducation and NLP techniques in working with secondary traumatic stress

Oksana Bolotova
Psychologist, International NLP Trainer,
Using Psychoeducation and NLP techniques in working with secondary traumatic stress

The experience in the use of Psychoeducation and NLP technologies was received within the framework of trainings on “ First Psychological Aid” and “Psychosocial Correction of Traumatic Events Consequences” course in 2015-2017 (ThreeLevel Education).

The situation which, from the beginning of 2014, has developed in Ukraine (and in Odessa in particular) with people who suffered from primal psychological trauma (participants of the Counterterrorist Operation, internally displaced persons), has drawn a significant number of psychologists, social workers and volunteers in helping the victims of the military operations. The active involvement of activists, volunteers and professionals for two to four months has led to deterioration of their own physical and psychological well-being. Volunteers, psychologists and workers of helping professions have largely shown the following symptoms:

– physical ailments that they have addressed medical doctors with and have been diagnosed as suffering from “vegetative-vascular dystonia”*.
– change in perception of the world: thoughts of personal insecurity, feeling of helplessness in facing life situations, apathy and indifference
– they have not understood the reasons of this, just stayed in a negative psychological and physical condition, but have not been able to deal with it
– their past fears have re-emerged

The symptoms described have provided an occasion to suggest a possibility of them suffering from secondary traumatic stress, though they themselves have not been aware of this.

In the context described above, two main objectives have emerged:

– to raise Psychoeducation levels among the helping workers and volunteers as to the awareness of a possibility of being traumatized while helping those who have suffered from primary stress disorder
– to train helping workers and volunteers to use methods of assessment of their own conditions and to deal with consequences of secondary traumatic stress resulting from the work
– to train helping workers and volunteers in NLP technologies (brief therapy) to work with secondary traumatic stress

Secondary traumatic stress – (STS) – this concept was introduced by several authors.

The beginning of the research can be considered the study by Yael Danieli (1985) on how survivors of the Holocaust have influenced their children and on transfer of trauma; the study by Liz Kelly (1988) on the influence of the victims of abuse trauma on their relatives; studies on the influence on therapists who work with survivors of trauma/disaster, for example, by Lindy Wilson (1994), Figley (1995, 1999), Pearlman MacIan (1995), Stamm (2002) [6]; on terrorist attacks and the Twin Towers fall in New York, which caused not only considerable primary traumas but also secondary traumatic disorders among therapists and psychologists in the USA. [10]

As of today, three concepts are used in the area of Secondary traumatic stress: compassion fatigue – Charles Figley (1994) [6],[10], vicarious trauma [6], and secondary traumatic stress [6]

Stamm (1999) and Figley (1999) have established similarity and interchangeability of compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress concepts.

Figley’s Definition of Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) [6] –

Natural consequent behaviors and emotions produced by the awareness of a tragic event endured by a significant other or from helping or desiring to help a traumatized person.

Three main areas (domains) of STS reactions/symptoms are singled out [6],[5]:

1. Indicators of psychological distress or dysfunction
2. Changes in cognitive schema
3. Relational disturbances

In order to ensure reaching the main objectives in dealing with consequences of negative and traumatic events, the ThreeLevel Education system of training sessions was established by the initiative group and with the assistance of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Odessa Region, upon the initiative of the city and regional leadership structures, public organizations, the Odessa military station, as well as the initiative of practicing psychologists who have the experience of working with negative and traumatic events.

The 1st Level is “ First Psychological Aid “training; the 2nd Level is training to teach people to conduct the First Psychological Aid training; the 3rd level is “Psychosocial Correction of Traumatic Events Consequences” course designed for 2 and a half months (evening courses format) jointly with the Odessa I. I. Mechnikov National State University.

Within the framework of this system of training sessions and courses, a possibility has presented itself of Psychoeducation on specifics of experiencing stress and training in ways of self-assessment and methods to work with consequences of secondary traumatic stress with both general population and workers of helping professions, psychologists, school psychologists, and volunteers.

For Psychoeducation, the following is used: McLean’s triune brain model, ideas of cognitive-behavioral therapy, and contemporary studies in the field of secondary traumatic stress.

In order to train the participants in assessment of their condition, they are presented with questions for self-assessment of their own condition after they have worked with those directly affected during traumatic and disastrous events. [6]

In order to work with consequences of secondary stress disorder experience, NLP technologies are used to work with consequences of traumatic and negative events [1],[3],[2]

Use of NLP techniques such as A black-and-white photo and Bringing in Resources in working with secondary traumatic stress makes it possible to put an end to a negative emotional experience received by a counselor/volunteer during the conversation with the persons who endured traumatic events, owing to transfer of memories of the First Perspective to those of the Third Perspective [7],[9],[8],[2].

There are two perspectives of experiencing a memory, a visual image in autobiographical memory. The First-person perspective [7], [8]. Here, in a visual image of a memory, the individual does not see himself or herself in the field of vision, but sees everything that surrounded him or her and what happened, his or her field of vision matching that of the original situation. As for the Third-person perspective [7],[8], in a visual memory, the individual does not only see that which surrounded him or her but also observes himself or herself from the outside. Memories of the First Perspective are much more emotional. Memories of the Third Perspective make it possible to pay attention to details and plans, with emotionality decreasing. NLP techniques such as A black-and-white photo and Bringing in Resources belong to NLP dissociative techniques [1]. The functioning of NLP dissociative technologies and using in them specifics of autobiographical memories of the First and Third Perspectives are described in [2].

Using NLP techniques with a transition from negative associative memory (First Perspective Memory) to a dissociative memory (Third Perspective Memory) has made it possible to break, first of all, the associative link with the memory of the work with victims, which produced negative/traumatic emotions. It has made it possible to analyze the situation of providing help to the victims and to consider it from a different angle. The subsequent modeling of an internal image of the memory has in most cases made it possible to change the condition of the trainees, to bring down anxiety, to provide an opportunity of finding new modes of dealing with situations. Use of the dissociated memory (memory of the Third Perspective, reflexive) facilitates the work with the memory and makes it less painful, which is very helpful and appealing to the participants. After the memories have been worked through with the suggested technique, anxiety goes down, physical condition of the trainees improves, some psychosomatic symptoms disappear. Having attended one training session, the participants invite their friends suffering from negative memories in order to teach them to correct the negative memories. Many trainees who have effectively regained their positive condition have begun a more in-depth training to work with the above-described technologies to help and train greater numbers of their colleagues.

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