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Specificity of Language in Work with Survivors & Perpetrators of Violence

Specificity of Language in Work with Survivors & Perpetrators of Violence

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Published by Jane Gilgun
Professionals who work with survivors and perpetrators of violence are of two minds when it comes to talking about violent acts. Some believe it is better to give a general indication of the type of violence under consideration and leave the details unstated. Others believe it is important to be specific and clear about the nature of the violent acts. This article shows the advantages and disadvantages of these two points of view. Signs of progress in treatment include service users’ capacities to express their inner experiences in clear and specific language that accurately reflects their emotional states. When service users develop these capacities they have done so in the safety of secure relationships where service providers themselves are attuned to service users. . Such attunement is possible when professionals have learned to cope with their often powerful responses to stories about violence.
Professionals who work with survivors and perpetrators of violence are of two minds when it comes to talking about violent acts. Some believe it is better to give a general indication of the type of violence under consideration and leave the details unstated. Others believe it is important to be specific and clear about the nature of the violent acts. This article shows the advantages and disadvantages of these two points of view. Signs of progress in treatment include service users’ capacities to express their inner experiences in clear and specific language that accurately reflects their emotional states. When service users develop these capacities they have done so in the safety of secure relationships where service providers themselves are attuned to service users. . Such attunement is possible when professionals have learned to cope with their often powerful responses to stories about violence.

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Published by: Jane Gilgun on Dec 24, 2011
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11/15/2012

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1
 SpecificityofLanguageinWorkwithSurvivors&PerpetratorsofViolence
byJaneGilgun
Summary
Professionalswhoworkwithsurvivorsandperpetratorsofviolenceareoftwomindswhenitcomestotalkingaboutviolentacts.Somebelieveitisbettertogiveageneralindicationofthetypeofviolenceunderconsiderationandleavethedetailsunstated.Othersbelieveitisimportanttobespecificandclearaboutthenatureoftheviolentacts.Thisarticleshowstheadvantagesanddisadvantagesofthesetwopointsofview.Signsofprogressintreatmentincludeserviceusers’capacitiestoexpresstheirinnerexperiencesinclearandspecificlanguagethataccuratelyreflectstheiremotionalstates.Whenserviceusersdevelopthesecapacitiestheyhavedonesointhesafetyofsecurerelationshipswhereserviceprovidersthemselvesareattunedtoserviceusers..Suchattunementispossiblewhenprofessionalshavelearnedtocopewiththeiroftenpowerfulresponsestostoriesaboutviolence.
 AbouttheAuthor
JaneF.Gilgun,Ph.D.,LICSW,isaprofessor,SchoolofSocialWork,UniversityofMinnesota,TwinCities,USA.Shedoesresearchonthemeaningsofviolencetoperpetrators,thedevelopmentofviolentbehaviors,andhowpersonsovercomeadversities.SeeProfessorGilgun’sotherarticles,books,andchildren’sstoriesonscribd.com,Kindle,iBooks,andotheron-linepublishers.
 
2
 SpecificityofLanguageinWorkwithSurvivors&PerpetratorsofViolence
rofessionalswhoworkwithsurvivorsandperpetratorsofviolenceareoftwomindswhenitcomestotalkingaboutviolentacts.Somebelieveitisbettertogiveageneralindicationofthetypeofviolenceunderconsiderationandleavethedetailsunstated.Othersbelieveitisimportanttobespecificandclearaboutthenatureoftheviolentacts.Thepurposeofthisarticleistoexaminetheadvantagesanddisadvantagesofthesetwopointsofviewinworkwithsurvivorsandperpetratorsoffamilyandcommunityviolence.Temperingthedivergenceoftheseviewsistheideathattheremaybetimeswhenvaguenessisappropriateandtimeswhenspecificandcleardescriptionsofviolentactsareappropriate.Frommypointofview,inworkwithsurvivors,whateverwedomustfostersurvivors’recovery,and,inworkwithperpetrators,whateverwedomustfostertheirtakingresponsibilityfortheharmtheyhavecaused,theirmakingupforwhattheyhavedone,andtheirdoingalltheycannottorepeattheviolence.AvoidancethatresultsfromfearANDrevulsioncreatesanatmospherewheresurvivorsbecomeafraidtotalkabouttheirvictimizationandperpetratorsgetapasstocontinuetheirbehaviors.
 AdvantagesofGeneralIndications
Manyprofessionalsbelievethatitisunnecessarytotalkaboutthedetailsofviolence,whethertheviolenceischildsexualandphysicalabuseorothertypessuchasphysicalandsexualassaultofwomenoremotionalabuse.IsawthispointofviewinactionataconferenceIattendedwheresomeofthepresentationswereonthesecondarytraumathattreatmentprofessionalsoftenexperiencewhentheyworkwithsurvivorsandperpetratorsofchildsexualabuse.Secondarytraumaariseswhenprofessionalsexperiencetraumasymptomsinresponsetotheirworkwithsurvivorsandperpetrators.Theprimarytraumaisserviceusers’.Professionals’traumaissecondaryto—oraresponseto--thisprimarytrauma.Theconferencepresentersgavenodetailsonthesexualactsthatledtothesecondarytraumaofprofessionals.Thereasontheyavoidedbeingexplicitwasbecausetheywantedtoavoidtraumatizingmembersoftheaudience.Theaudiencewascomposedofprofessionalswhoworkwithchild,adolescent,andadultsurvivorsandperpetratorsofsexualviolenceandabuse.Inthispresentation,nottalkingaboutthedetailsofsexualviolencewasmeanttoprotectprofessionalswhoworkwithsurvivors.Secondarytraumaisanoccupationalhazardforpersonswhoworkwithsurvivorsandperpetrators.Professionalsexposethemselvestostoriesaboutviolencethatotherstell.Theirtraumaisvicarious,notinresponsetoviolentactsthattheyhaveexperienced
P
 
3directly.Sometimesthesestoriestriggermemoriesoftraumathatprofessionalshavethemselvesexperienced.Yet,evenprofessionalswithrelativelybenignhistoriesoftraumacanexperiencesecondarytraumathatoccurssimplybecausetheyarehumanbeingswithasharedhumanitywithtraumasurvivors.
DetailedStories&SecondaryTrauma
Inanotherpresentationatthesameconference,apresentertalkedindetailaboutwhatamansaidaboutarapehehadcommitted.Hesaidhedidn’tmeantokillthewoman,butonlystrangledhertorenderherunconscioussohecouldrapeher.Amemberoftheaudienceleftatthatmoment.Twomembersoftheaudiencelatertoldthepresenterthattheydidnothearonewordshehadsaidonceshetoldthestoryabouttherapist.Thetwoaudiencememberswereserviceproviderswhoworkwithsurvivorsofsexualabuse.Theseprofessionalsappearedtohaveexperiencedsecondarytrauma,oratleasttheywantedtoavoidexperiencingit.Experiencesofsecondarytraumaaredifficulttohandle.Flashbacks,troublesleeping,andanxietyarecommonsymptoms.Professionalsgrowintheircapacitiestohandlesecondarytraumaiftheyhaveotherswithwhomtheycanprocesstheirtrauma.Iwonderhowtheseprofessionalsrespondwhenthesurvivorsandperpetratorstheyworkwithwanttotalkaboutwhathappenedduringviolentevents.Aretheyopentostoriesofviolence?Dotheyconveysubtlesignsthattheydon’twanttohearthedetails?Dotheyprovidesafehavenswheresurvivorsandperpetratorscanworkthrougheffectsoftraumaandthemeaningsthatviolencehasforthem?
 Attunement,Empathy,andUnderstanding
Experiencingothersasattunement,empathic,andunderstandingiskeytorecoveryfromtraumaandkeytograpplingwithissuesthatleadperpetratorstodoharmtoothers.Thisisaclearfindingfromresearchandalsoabasicprincipleintherapeuticprocesses.Whenserviceproviderscommunicatethesequalitiestoserviceusers,serviceusersarelikelytomakegainsindealingwiththeirownissues.Inshort,itisthejobofserviceproviderstocreatesafehavensforsurvivorsandperpetrators.Thisdoesnotmeanthatprofessionalsarenotclearthatperpetratorshaveharmedothers.Quitethecontrary:inorderforperpetratorstostopharmingothers,theymustdealdirectlywiththeharmtheycaused,takeresponsibilityforwhattheyhavedone,doallthecantomakeupforwhattheyhavedone,anddoalltheycantoensurethattheydonotcommitviolentactsinthefuture.Whenserviceusersdetectdistancing,fear,andhurtinserviceproviders,theyfeelunsafe.Toprotectthemselves,theyavoidmentioningdetails.Someserviceusersgointoavoidancetoprotectserviceproviders.Unlessserviceprovidersdealwiththeirownnegativeresponses,theyareunabletobeunattuned,empathic,andunderstanding.Ontheotherhand,someperpetratorsmayrampupthedetailsinordertoseeanevenmorehurtandfearinserviceproviders.Suchasituationiscounterproductive,tosaytheleast.

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