A previous tip touched on the subject of trauma. But how many of us know what trauma actually means?
Many of us will, at some point, have said we’ve had a “traumatic” experience, when all that really happened was that we suffered some inconvenience or perhaps got a bit stressed. And, whilst it wasn’t very pleasant, it wasn’t really traumatic.
One definition of trauma is “an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person”, which is somewhat different to the day to day “trauma” that most of us will have encountered.
There are a number of factors involved in the cause of trauma, including :
The speed of transition from normality to the traumatic event
The length and level of exposure
Previous personal experiences, the memories of which may be triggered by the traumatic event
How people are treated afterwards
We have little or no control over the first three, but we do potentially have a big influence over the fourth – but only if we plan and prepare properly, so that we can respond appropriately when the need arises. For instance, by designating an emergency response team to deal with people, as opposed to facilities or IT or business processes – and ensuring that they have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the effects of trauma to carry out this critical role; or by training our own staff rather than relying on a third party (who we may never have spoken to, let alone checked their qualifications, and who may not even be available when needed).
It’s very easy to do the wrong things when dealing with the effects of trauma (for instance by providing inadequate counselling or by counselling too early or by ignoring the subject completely). But it’s also quite easy to do the right thing – with a bit of forethought and planning.
We’ll return to this important topic in a future tip – in the meantime, do think seriously about the provision you’ve made within your crisis/incident management or business continuity plans, and consider whether the one-liner that says something like “refer staff to the counselling service” really is adequate.