Those of us who work with trauma survivors are probably a little rougher around the edges than most. We drink a lot after work. We talk about drinking a lot at work.

We get paid to take on the emotional burden of others so that perhaps they can walk out of our office with a sense of clarity. Our job is to listen without judgment; to offer guidance that recognizes the impact trauma will have on an individual’s ability to function in an often insensitive society; to accept the fact that we will not always inspire change because no matter how hard we try, we cannot engage everyone.

We kick ass at what we do and then we go home and cry about it.

Most of us go into human service work because we are fixers.
We were the girls and boys who ended up being counselors for our crushes when their hearts were broken. The weirdos who brought up social issues at keg parties.

Fiercely protective. Reasonable. Solution oriented. And somehow also a little bit insane. You have to be.

We are trained to help people process unimaginable terror. To do that, we must reframe our idea of what success really is. Small victories come in strange packages. It took a client of mine weeks to develop the courage to ride the city bus. I was so proud of her that day. She decided that if the face works for Jenna Marbles in awkward social situations, she could use it for creepy strangers on the bus. I believe her ability to develop a healthy sense of humor around her fear was what really made her feel empowered to conquer it. Who knew a pop culture reference was the most powerful tool she could use in that situation?

I learned quickly that my default armor of perfectionism does not serve me well as an advocate. It would make for a great work day if I could assess the problem, find the solution, and show my work for extra credit. But the truth is, there are no magic words I can say to help someone understand the senseless things that were done to them, often by someone they trusted. There is no charm to fix pain. There is only empathy.

There is only my ability to recognize when a client needs to talk about YouTube videos instead of what’s really bothering her, and to accept that it’s okay. Because what looks like progress usually isn’t anyway, it’s deflection. And what looks like a waste of time can often be healing in the most extraordinary ways.