Documentary Gives Insight into How "Caregivers" Deal With Trauma

Mar 29, 2018

The title card for the documentary "Portraits of Professional Caregivers."
Credit Screenshot from the Documentary, "Portraits of Profesisonal Caregivers" by Vic Compher and Rodney Whittenberg.

A new documentary airing tonight on KVCR-TV explores the secondary traumatic stress that caregivers such as doctors, therapists, and first responders experience on a daily basis. KVCR's Benjamin Purper has more. 

A new documentary called “Portraits of Professional Caregivers” explores the secondary traumatic stress that caregivers such as doctors, therapists, and first responders experience on a daily basis.

It’s a look into the people whose line of work gives them what’s called secondary traumatic stress – the kind of toxic stress you experience from caring for people with PTSD. That includes social workers, police officers, doctors, therapists – anyone who is a professional caregiver to traumatized people.

The documentary was made by Vic Compher, a social worker and filmmaker, and his coproducer Rodney Whittenberg, a professional film score composer.

Whittenberg says one reason they set out to make the documentary is to combat the stigma around asking for help.

“So that was one of the things that we wanted to do, was to try to make it okay for the people that we’re honoring in the film to say, okay, I can go get help.”

Whittenberg says it’s important to distinguish between PTSD and secondary traumatic stress. Caregivers may have a very different experience dealing with trauma than the people they care for.

“A lot of times, it all gets lumped under one category, meaning they call it PTSD. And I’ve seen a lot of times where serious journalists will have on first responders who responded to help someone and they start talking about PTSD when they’re actually dealing with secondary trauma.”

Vic Compher says it’s not just people like first responders and emergency surgeons who deal with secondary traumatic stress. It can also be lawyers, journalists, and even veterinarians - and those people need support too.

“There’s just a whole range of individuals who do a lot of caring and outreach to help others and who themselves we need to be providing, as a society we need to be providing care for the caregivers as well.”

Compher says peer support is one of the most powerful tools for dealing with secondary trauma. He recommends that employers provide places for employees dealing with trauma to open up about what they’re dealing with.

“If you can train your colleagues and peers to look out for the signs and symptoms of this situation and then create group structures or one-one-one structures of peer support, this seems to be one of the best things that can be provided.”