When Stories Hurt 

Clinicians who help victims of trauma increasingly realize that they also need help in coping with the impacts that their clients' stories inflict.

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"Practice wisdom" is how Merrill describes the personalized tricks and rituals he has heard in his years as a trainer. He told the story of a social worker at an Oakland hospital who, at the end of each day, would unlock her glove compartment, turn off her pager, hold it for a minute while closing her eyes, and wish her clients inside the hospital well. Then she'd lock the pager in the glove compartment. The next morning, she'd repeat the ritual in reverse. "She felt like she was able to psychologically wall it off better," explained Merrill.

"[Pacing] the energy you give out over a thirty-year career is really hard to do," he added. Ultimately, it comes down to choosing to take care of yourself while caring for others, and finding light in the darkness, he said.

"I feel very grateful for my life because I saw peoples' lives taken away from them, like that," he said, snapping his fingers. "It's kind of incredible what people can survive, and that they can find meaning in it. Not [just] devastation, but some kind of positive meaning. If you're aware of the impact it has on you, then you can shape how your beliefs change or what you need to do, and I believe it can actually make you greater."

After work each day, McDonald picks up her young son from school. She said that as she drives, she focuses on what residual stress is left over from the day. "And every tick on the speedometer, every mile, I let it go," she said. "And I tell myself, if there's anything residual, when I see his smile, it will melt."


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