When Helping Is Dangerous: Benefits and Risks to Providers Delivering Digital Crisis Intervention

When Helping Is Dangerous: Benefits and Risks to Providers Delivering Digital Crisis Intervention

Dana C. Branson (Southeast Missouri State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6705-0.ch014
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The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the growth in social services using digital platforms to provide crisis interventions for clients, families, and communities. Digitally provided services afford numerous benefits to clients, such as increased accessibility, timeliness of services, and increase of autonomy. However, there are also new ethical concerns of using digital platforms for social services, as well as dangers to providers—specifically, secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, and manifestations of these phenomena in providers' professional and personal lives. The chapter will discuss these potential concerns and the need for prevention and self-care for providers. Finally, the chapter will review the necessity for ongoing trainings and additional research concerning digitally provided crisis intervention services and occupational hazards for social service providers.
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When individuals and communities experience crisis, fear and chaos erupt. Fortunately, the best of people also emerges in a sudden collective feeling of unity, gratitude, renewed patriotism, and altruism (Herman, 1997). Individuals, families, and groups share their time, skills, resources, and finances to assist others. At times, some even sacrifice their lives for others, often strangers who are in great need. The professionals who take on human carnage and crisis for a living are also on-hand, providing life-saving services, guidance to the masses, and leadership. These are the ones who have gone to school and trained so they can effectively respond to traumas at all levels. Nevertheless, no amount of preparation ever fully prepares a person to deal with trauma, its subjective effect on victims, and its very complex aftermath. Professionals are trained to debrief after especially difficult events, encouraged to seek supervision and the consultation of co-workers in strenuous times, and/or attend in-service trainings to remind staff of the importance of personal safety and self-care (DelTosta et al., 2019; Friedman, 2017; Grundlingh et al., 2017). But what happens when professionals are providing these services in isolation? When client disclosures create intrusive imagery and overwhelm a provider’s ability to help, but there is no colleague down the hallway to vent to and self-help is not encouraged because the provider is in control of their own schedule? With the increase in digitally provided crisis interventions and telehealth services, providers are taking on significant amounts of secondary trauma with few supports or reliefs. This places providers in danger of developing secondary traumatic stress and/or vicarious trauma (Tehrani, 2016; Zhou et al., 2020).

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the increased use of digital platforms as a means of improving access to social services for clients, including crisis intervention during times of community disasters and individual traumatic events. This chapter is a review of contemporary literature surrounding potential dangers to those providing digital social services, as well as a look at seminal sources on the development of terminology concerning ancillary traumatic phenomenon. The theoretical framework that provides an understanding of how trauma is an individual event will be discussed, as well as the secondary effects experienced by providers. Resulting potential ethical issues and practice considerations of digitally provided services will be examined. The chapter will also discuss potential dangers to providers using digital platforms, specifically secondary traumatic stress (STS) and vicarious trauma (VT). The significant differences between the two terms, common symptomology, and risk/protective factors will be reviewed. Finally, the chapter will discuss prevention methods for STS and VT and how social service agencies can work to support providers who deliver crisis services through digital platforms. The need for social service providers has increased and is forecasted to grow an additional 18% from 2018 to 2028. This is faster and higher than the average of other occupations (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Additionally, as clients, providers, and agencies become more comfortable with offering assistance digitally, more social services will be delivered from professional silos. This increases the potential for negative effects to the provider, as they may be working in isolation and have decreased accessibility to supervision and co-workers for processing of difficult client material. It is imperative that social services be delivered in a manner that increases availability and decreases barriers to needed services. Digital platforms can assist in this endeavor. However, providers of digital services need to be supported and protected from the difficulties of their work so they can continue to provide the professional and effective care giving that clients need.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Boundaries: Overt and/or covert limits that exist to encourage a healthy and appropriate relationship and serve as guidelines for behavior.

Ethics: Professional norms that are developed from an agreed upon set of values that guide practice behavior and decision making.

Technology: Evolving devices and/or tools that increase efficiency in work. For the purposes of this chapter, technology is the collection of devices and/or tools that provide new means of communication and service provisions, specifically over electronic pathways.

Self-Care: Discretionary and enjoyable activities that provide relaxation, stress-relief, and renewal of body, mind, and spirit. These activities should be leisure in nature, not chores or other “to do” list items that might provide relief because a task has been completed, but do not provide a sense of renewal.

Social Service Provider: A professional who has completed the required curriculum and training to provide mental health, crisis, trauma-informed care, and other social service duties to assist those struggling, oppressed, and/or vulnerable in society.

Social media: Electronic platforms that allow for the sharing of information over the Internet.

Post-Traumatic Growth: Positive emotions, cognitions, and outcomes from trauma that come about through strategically selective reflections. Purposefully focusing on positives of traumatic aftermath, adopting an attitude of gratitude, and searching for ways to be empowered by lessons learned from the past events.

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