Why a small group of clinical psychologists are helping traumatized journalists – Poynter


Throughout her career, Registered Clinical Psychologist Stephanie A. Sacks has been committed to working with underserved people, including those who lack access to resources or suffer from chronic mental illness. So when she heard about a new program from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma who would connect qualified therapists to help journalists overcome trauma, Sacks felt obligated to help.

“What I learned about journalists, which also makes me conceptualize journalists in some ways as underserved, is the lack of information and preparation for the reality that this is a career. where there is an occupational risk for trauma, ”Sacks said. “It’s not something that is really openly talked about in curricula at school, or generally in journalistic institutions, or in newsrooms.”

Another reason: The coronavirus pandemic also made Sacks feel indebted to reporters.

“They were the entry point and the way I felt connected to the rest of the world during the lockdown and while we were as isolated as possible,” said Sacks, who is based in Florida and is also the founder. . from the Palm Beaches Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Center in Boca Raton.

Earlier this year, the Dart Center announced a new program called the Support network for trauma journalists. The network, a collaboration between the center and the Committee to Protect Journalists, trains experienced and seasoned therapists to help provide culturally competent care to journalists.

The pilot program is led by Emily Sachs, a licensed clinical psychologist in California and New York. Sachs said she has long been interested in the mental health of journalists. His experience includes working at Bellevue program for torture survivors, with refugees, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, at a downtown family clinic, as well as researching immigration detention centers.

“And in every setting I was in, I noticed there were reporters covering the stories, trying to shed light on human rights and environmental and political issues,” Sachs said. “I have just developed an immense respect for these professionals, but I also noticed that they are not well paid, that there is not a lot of infrastructure behind some of them, and that they are the only group in these settings that does not have dedicated staff. services.”

The Dart Center says journalists frequently witness human suffering and are sometimes the direct targets of violence. American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event. Shock and denial are typical reactions, and longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.

Journalists, Sachs said, are not immune to trauma. She began to learn about the culture of journalism and stressors and professional challenges, and eventually joined the Dart Center. Sachs said she and the center have started teaming up to organize training sessions for journalism organizations and journalist support organizations.

This led to questions from several people on a list of therapists who understand trauma and are trained to work with journalists. There was no such list, Sachs said, and building one was going to be difficult because it’s what she described as an incredibly small specialty. She said therapists lacked cultural competence.

“Before we could recommend clinicians, we really had a capacity issue – there weren’t enough psychologists trained in the cultural skills and understanding of the risks and professional challenges of this very unique group,” Sachs said. “Just as there is a need to learn more about military culture and professional structures, it has become clear that this is also necessary for this group. “

That’s when Sachs said he spoke to the Dart Center about the idea of ​​a program that would train trauma-expert clinicians to help reporters.

“(The Journalist Trauma Support Network) was really designed as an education and training program for psychologists, and that’s what we have now – it’s a pilot program of 22 experienced trauma psychologists that we have. now trained to work with reporters, and keep on train, ”Sachs said. “Then, we joined forces with the Committee for the Protection of Journalists to facilitate the referral process. “

The first cohort of psychologists – found via the Sachs and Dart Center networks – has followed a training earlier this year and have committed to seeing a maximum of two journalists at a time for six months. They are paid for their services, but the sessions are free for journalists. The program is able to continue to pay therapists for an additional six months, until April 30, 2022.

Sacks, the licensed clinical psychologist from Florida, said she had previously learned how to work with photojournalists at a veterans hospital. She learned a lot from the formation of the Journalist Trauma Support Network, which Sacks says has broadened the reach to all journalists.

Sacks observed a certain overlap between the journalism industry and that of legal practitioners and emergency services.

“It’s almost a right of passage to have such a terrible work-life balance, and I think it’s something that – due to the very nature of the job – is a bit of an uphill battle just to establish: “How do you really take care of yourself in a reasonable way? ‘ She said. “If you want to have longevity in any industry, especially one where you’re exposed to trauma after trauma after stress after challenge after claim, and you’re juggling a family and all that stuff, it’s a really tough culture and he can send messages almost glorifying it from top to bottom in a way that isn’t really helpful.

Also in this cohort is Lea Didion, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Washington, DC, who owns a solo private practice and co-owns a private group practice (both focused on PTSD and trauma work). and said the program was an opportunity for her to serve another underserved population who valiantly put themselves in traumatic situations to do good.

Being part of the pilot program so far has helped open Didion’s eyes to attacks on journalists, as well as allegations of misinformation from some members of the public.

“Because I’m not a journalist and I’m not in this field, it’s something I’ve had ignorant happiness about, but certainly over the past four years – with the accusations of misinformation and falsehoods. news – I have definitely observed and seen how much journalists are under fire and how mistrust has been perpetuated around journalists, I think this is unfair, ”Didion said.

Didion said that one of the most striking aspects of the training she and others has taken has been learning about the deep commitment of many journalists to doing good. This is something that resonated with the psychologist regarding her work.

“I think the other thing that really stood out to me and was not so aware of… is how vulnerable journalists are or can be, especially with so much information on the Internet. You can so easily find people’s addresses or their homes, ”Didion said. “It was just amazing to me how brutal some of the attacks (were) journalists suffered from readers or people who didn’t like or believe what was being reported. It was amazing and really impactful to hear about it. “

Didion said his goal through this program is the same as for any traumatized person: to provide them with a space to open up and talk about what they need.

“Even in my brief work with reporters so far, I’ve heard them say, ‘I’m usually not the one you ask the questions. Usually I ask the questions. Which, again, is something I can really relate to, as a therapist: I’m usually the one asking the questions, not asking me the question, ”she said. “I think there is so much power in having a safe space to talk about the things that weigh heavily on us.”

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