Helping disaster responders deal with secondary trauma

Helping disaster responders deal with secondary trauma

Samantha Drogosch’s desired path in the social work field has evolved throughout her time at the Steve Hicks School. Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, she’s still figuring it all out.

One thing Drogosch, BSW ’20, knows for sure, is the impact she hopes to make in public and community health, which has been made clear through her internship  at the American Red Cross of Central & South Texas. Along with other social work interns, Drogosch started a self-care virtual workshop to address the secondary trauma that disaster responders experience.

The Red Cross’ workforce is 90% led by volunteers who provide immediate aid after natural and humanitarian disasters such as fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and now COVID-19. The self-care workshops offer an opportunity for peer-to-peer intervention, allowing volunteers to facilitate psychoeducational groups that empower and engage them in one another’s emotional health.

“It can be easy to respond to disasters without being mindful and aware of the effects that they have on you and those around you. And the effects can be so intense,” Drogosch said. “Overtime those effects can build up if not continuously addressed. That can result in a lot of pain, and loss of heart and passion. It can be hard for people to come to terms with the way their helping is actually hurting them. I know it’s hard for me.” 

Since the workshops started in April, discussion topics have ranged from self-compassion and resilience to gratitude and how interactions with nature contribute to self-care. But outside of self-care workshops, Steve Hicks School field interns have done much more.

Red Cross volunteer and social work field instructor Mary Young said interns developed a volunteer spotlight campaign and completely revamped the Red Cross’ resource guide, adding resources for communities spanning 83 Texas counties. Young said this work is outside of the scope of what interns have typically done for the Red Cross before the pandemic. 

Samantha Drogosch

Samantha Drogosch, BSW ’20.

“With COVID-19, it’s been a little bit different from what our students normally do,” Young said. “Primarily they provide short-term critical casework after someone has experienced a disaster. They help determine how we can best provide support, whether it be community resources or mental health support.”

As intern’s tasks shifted with the pandemic, so did the structure of the self-care workshops. They were initially supposed to occur in person but the current circumstances led field interns to get creative and move them online. This in turn allowed more than 40 Red Cross volunteers to attend each of the three virtual workshops. This month, as Drogosch’s time at the Red Cross comes to an end, she finds solace in knowing volunteers will continue their discussions on self-care. 

“We wanted to create something that would communicate to volunteers that they were cared for,” Drogosch said. “These workshops can help our disaster responders avoid exhaustion and isolation and care for their communities and themselves in fulfilling, sustainable, and healthy ways.”  

 Posted by Montinique Monroe on July 7, 2020.