The experience of northern helping practitioners




O'Neill, Linda Kay

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This research study considered the experience of northern helping practitioners in providing trauma support in isolated communities in northern BC and Yukon. In these communities, access to specialists in the field of trauma counselling is severely restricted due to distance from main centres. Economic and cultural factors leave the essential support of survivors of trauma to helping practitioners in various fields with varying levels of training and supervision (Boone, Minore, Katt, & Kinch, 1997; Trippany, Kress, & Wilcoxon, 2004). Many northern communities have experienced historical trauma and continue to experience intergenerational trauma, contributed to by current psychosocial conditions linked to the legacy of colonization (Brave Heart, 2003; Duran, Duran, Brave Heart & Davis-Yellow Horse, 1998; Tafoya & Del Vecchio, 1996). In remote communities, helping practitioners may be working in their home communities, sometimes sharing similar trauma experiences to that of their clients (Morrissette & Naden, 1998). Helping practitioners in the North are also hired from “outside” to provide service to communities, arriving with limited knowledge of the specific context of the communities. These helping practitioners may be put at personal and professional risk of developing secondary traumatic symptoms from repeated exposure to clients’ trauma in the helping relationship (Baird & Jenkins, 2003). There is little information available on professional and paraprofessional workers providing this type of support in the North. Using a narrative inquiry process, the stories of eight helping practitioners were analyzed using a three phase analysis based on the approach developed by Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, and Zilber (1998). The narratives were summarized into experience portraits, painting a picture of eight very different experiences and responses to those experiences. The content analysis was presented as content sketches that made-up the experience portraits. The themes that emerged from the data indicated the effects on practitioners and the strategies used by practitioners in maintaining their ability to practice under challenging conditions. Ten categories provided a structure for arranging the data. Five metathemes were interpreted from the narratives: helping takes over life, humanity, respectful engagement, invested and embedded, profoundly affected, and belief.



counselling, secondary trauma, culture, First Nations