Trauma Stewardship

By Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

Working, volunteering, or being active in any way against injustice takes a significant toll on those fighting the good fight. Whether researching endangered species in remote jungle or alpine locations, providing emergency medical care on the front lines of war or poverty, or sitting in the mucky emotional aftermath of experiencing trauma with those sharing their stories, the negative impact of these circumstances have far-reaching ramifications. Instead of continuing the conversation around burnout, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky suggests taking a stewardship approach to coping with trauma exposure as a result of one’s work. As environmental stewardship involves caring for and protecting environmental resources, trauma stewardship requires attention to our own capacities and managing our own well-being. Lipsky identifies several ways in which trauma exposure response interferes with one’s ability to be present and engaged both at work and in other areas of life, and suggests several practices for deepening attention to the impact of trauma exposure and cultivating habits for effectively managing trauma exposure response. Throughout the book, Lipsky illustrates the importance of these lessons with personal narratives of professionals engaged in caring work and making change once they recognized the impact of trauma exposure response, offering concrete examples of how to fight the good fight in a sustainable way.

“Trauma Stewardship” brings a new approach to the vast and vastly underestimated subject of trauma exposure. Having worked professionally for many years in fields responding to various types of trauma, Lipsky also presents this information with the understanding that folks doing this work often feel the work is more important than breathing. When identifying the impact of trauma exposure response, Lipsky provides examples of changes in attitudes and behavior that specifically show up at work, and also describes how these changes impact personal relationships and well-being beyond the walls of “the office” (however those boundaries manifest in different fields). Lipsky also offers suggestions for how to effectively manage the impact of trauma exposure response, identifying several strategies and practices for staying present and engaged with work (rather than numbing), staying centered and grounded (rather than losing all sense of emotional boundaries), and staying physically, mentally and spiritually healthy (rather than not). Based on many years of working in trauma-related fields, Lipsky shares this information with alarming insight and accuracy, but with a sense of offering medicine. This information may not be nice to hear, but it is necessary to hear because of the impact it can have on our world, our communities, and ourselves.

This is an incredibly important book. As someone who bears witness to trauma on a regular basis through my chosen profession, and also as someone who supervises other people who choose to bear witness to trauma, this is a book I will carry with me and continually reference throughout my work. The lessons provided in this book are so spot-on they can’t be ignored, and the suggestions for stewardship are so accessible that it only makes sense to integrate them into daily life. Highly recommended for anyone who strives to end any type of injustice.

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