An article written by Lisa Westgate, Mental Health Expert, Trainer, Author
The drive to help, to rescue others, to be of service, is a two-sided coin. It is what motivates us to join service-based careers such as law enforcement, child protection, healthcare and teaching to name a few. It encourages some to enter relationships with ‘fixer-uppers’, imagining they can ‘change’ their partners into who they ‘could’ be.
This altruistic drive can also be the curse that creates ‘stigma’, the self-talk that creates obstacles for those very same individuals looking after everyone else to ask for and accept support.
Many of us recognise it is easier to support others in their challenges than confront our own. Or at least we feel like it is. But without exploring our own, we are merely responding to a projection of how difficult it will be, i.e., guessing.
In the world of mental health, PTSD and lived experience practitioners, a world I have been in for over six years, this is demonstrated through ‘wounded healers’. Individuals who have suffered a great tragedy or difficult episode in their own life and almost immediately become advocates for those with similar experiences, set up a not-for-profit or complete a short course and call themselves a healing practitioner of some variety. Now, to be clear, the intentions and motivation behind this course of action is most often altruistic as I have outlined. These individuals tend to be ‘helpers’ by nature. Usually, they are not consciously aware that they are avoiding their own healing process, it is just ‘easier’ to focus on helping others.
As well intentioned as this is, I have seen some issues around this pattern. Firstly, for those they are helping, it can become apparent that they are a subject for their healer’s catharsis. This is not a pleasant realisation to come to when one discovers it’s not 100% about them. Quite aside from the risks associated with underqualified practitioners working in the trauma space with very vulnerable clients. Secondly, it does not appear to be a sustainable model for the ‘wounded healer’. I have seen people oscillate between running trauma support Facebook groups and inpatient stays in psychiatric units for their own mental health. Boundaries are often lax or non-existent in this scenario. Putting oneself in a position to be exposed to vicarious trauma in a support role whilst oneself having open psychological wounds is fraught with danger.
Does this mean that lived experience practitioners do not have a role in trauma support? Not at all. We are crucial in the healing collective. What I am advocating for is a pathway of Hurt. HEAL. Help. Helpers that come from a healed space have a power that is unrivalled. Take the time. HEAL. Then join us in making others’ lives better.
ABOUT LISA WESTGATE
Experience as a Paramedic and dual rape survivor, combined with education in the field and six years of experience as a practitioner.
Lisa’s underlying messages are of hope, healing and empowerment. She believes no one knows you better than you, therefore the individual must drive their own path to full recovery.
Lisa Westgate will be presenting at the National Conversation on PTSD 2021. Buy your tickets here.
ABOUT THE SESSION:
You’ve had a traumatic experience. You want to help others going through similar challenges. Admirable, but helping others can take a heavy toll. We have seen individuals passionate about sharing their wisdom, fall in a hole and ultimately disappear from the space altogether. Lived Experience is recognised as valuable, but can it be sustainable?
This session is a live case study presentation where Lisa and Kim will discuss how and why the Trauma Community must move past the ‘wounded healer’ phenomenon and leverage Lived Experience to discover a new life purpose and help others with integrity and healthy boundaries.
1. Insight into a Hurt. HEAL. Help. experience.
2. Key Elements to sustainably being a Lived Experience Informed Practitioner.
3. A unique opportunity to ask questions of people who have ‘outgrown’ PTSD. Yes, it is possible.