My guest on this podcast is Kristen Holzapfel, and the subject of our conversation is a book she wrote entitled Selfless.
It is a story of Kristen’s work on the frontlines of social work- particularly in child protection.
After several years in a relentlessly fast paced environment she developed symptoms of vicarious trauma, which quickly led to the development of anorexia nervosa.
Kristen did her social work degree at ACU in Canberra, and one of her teachers and former Head of the School of Social Work, Kandie Allen-Kelly wrote the foreword to Kristen’s book.
In the foreword Kandie writes,
I met Kristen when she was a twenty-three-year-old social work student, she struck me as bright, lovely, idealistic, optimistic, warm, friendly and kind young woman… the quality of her writing and the honesty of her reflections, drew me into a world where I felt afraid, alone and angry that the profession had so badly let down one of our own…. Front line agencies not only deal with the toughest of societal issues and the worst cases of poverty abuse and violence. They are also subjected to high media scrutiny and repeated reviews and enquiries, all of which contribute to high levels of burnout, staff turnover and repeated failure to provide appropriate levels of professional supervision…
Selfless takes us in and out of Kristen’s recovery, reminding us that it is not a linear process, but one where survivors often revisit stresses and automatic behaviours which lead to downward spirals, and then back to new or different recovery paths. We come to understand or be reminded that vicarious trauma is “a process of change resulting from empathic engagement with trauma survivors” (Perlman 1999) and that shame – that deep sense of worthlessness and inadequacy – is deeply rooted within the development of such trauma. Kristen reminds us that vicarious trauma can be processed and worked through, but if we add another layer of stress (like workplace bullying or administrative ignorance) before it has been processed, psychological outcomes can become very shaky indeed.
For listeners who want to know more, or buy Kristen’s book, you can go to her website.