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Author Topic: is it unethical?
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Hi

I was just wondering, is it unethical for a survivor of domestic violence to work with victims of domestic violence?

'Cause I am, and I want to.

I left the relationship almost 6 years ago, and got a lot of help and took a lot of time to heal, and I still do when I need to. So, I've gone back to school to become a social worker and work with victims of abuse/violence against women in general, maybe even do some activism and stuff.

But then, I read in the Canadian Association of Social Workers code of ethics that it's unethical for a social worker to work in situations that closely resemble their own (smth along those lines anyways, can't remember exactly). And I know that all I have to do is not go into explicit details about my past for this not to be a problem for me, but the problem is I really don't want to be unethical.

Anyways, I thought that getting a practicum at a women's shelter would be the best way to figure out if I'm able to deal with this kind of work or not, because as a student I'm sort of "allowed" to make mistakes, or get emotional...

I guess I kind of wanted to get some support, cause I could have just e-mailed the CASW with my question, but I know that a lot of people here a survivors, and I really respect what you all do here.

So anyways, do you think it would be unethical? Are there some steps I could take to make sure it's not? (weren't the first women's shelters founded by survivors anyways?)

Thanks!

Posts: 126 | From: Canada | Registered: Mar 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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I also want to add, that I know very well that this is absolutely part of the healing process for me... that's part of the reason I'm worried it might be unethical
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Heather
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You know, if it's unethical for people to work with populations who have been in situations they have been in, then I'm unethical all the time, and so is every sex educator I know and every rape crisis worker I'm close to.

For sure, it's really important to have good boundaries when you have shared experiences, to do good self-care and to be very aware of your limits and heed them.

But no, I don't think it's unethical so long as it doesn't feel too close for the worker, and/or the worker can keep themselves from projecting.

While I think non-survivors can also do that job well, I also think that peer-to-peer support is often invaluable, especially to people in crisis or dealing with trauma. And yes: it's that philosophy which was at the heart of the first shelters, rape crisis hotlines, sexual and women's health clinics, sex education, etc.

Obviously, this is a matter of opinion, though, but what I'd say is you most want to just try and be very honest about what you think you can handle and do well, something we all need to do, survivor or not, every single minute of every day, really. And I think that kind of constant awareness, right there, takes care of a lot of ethical issues.

[ 04-20-2011, 10:01 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Thanks Heather, I think I just wanted to hear that.

(BTW I don't think what you do here is unethical at all, I think it's fantastic!)

I was really shocked when I read that in the code of ethics, and i can't help but think that it a very... um... hierarchical (?) way of approaching it. I find it places the worker apart from (and above) the problems of the person who is looking for help.

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Heather
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Well, I think it depends on how narrowly or broadly that is meant.

In other words, if it means that it could be an ethical conflict for you to be working with someone just like you as a person, in a situation that very much reminded you of yours, again, specifically, then yes, I agree, that can present real problems because it can be very hard not to project.

But if that's very broad, like you were abused and they were abused, I agree, that's much, much too broad. Not only are you going to have a mighty hard time even finding anyone who can meet that criteria, I do think that sends some troubling messages, both about the relationship between you and the people you work with, but also about being a victim at all. Potentially, it suggests that victims can't ever really heal well and do things like separate themselves professionally.

So, you might just ask someone to explain more of what that means, because it may well mean the former, not the latter.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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By the by, I personally think it's fantastic you're looking into doing this work. Likely fantastic -- albeit challenging -- for you, likely fantastic for the people you'll work with. [Smile]

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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eryn_smiles
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I volunteer at an ethnic womens group which is involved in domestic violence and intervention. I'm not a survivor myself but I know that many of the women who work here are survivors of child abuse and/or partner abuse. That includes our founder, the counsellors, youth and women's advocates. I think that their past experiences can give them alot of empathy with some of our clients that someone like me might find more difficult. In other words, I don't think it's unethical. As well, domestic violence, rape and assault are so common in our communities unfortunately. I think we'd be hard pushed to find an entire workforce which didn't contain some survivors.

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Thanks! I knew I'd find support here, and just in time to because I just found out that I will be placed at a shelter next year for my practicum.

I'm really happy, but also pretty darn scared!

I think there's a very good chance that I'll be triggered at some point. So there's a good chance you'll be hearing about it in the next year too.

Thanks for being here!

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Heather
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Is that something you'll be able to talk about with your supervisor both before you start and while you're working?

I would be concerned if you have to keep secret that you're a survivor at your job, just to not miss that bit. That seems like it'd be pretty unhealthy and difficult for you, and would also limit how much you could benefit the people you're helping as someone who has shared some similar experience.

Again, still not sure I have a sense of how broad that bit in the code really is, even though I suspect it's probably less broad than you originally assumed.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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yeah, I think i might have misinterpreted it a bit...

I was wondering the same thing about if it's something I'll be able to talk about with my supervisor... I feel like it would be awkward to bring up, but really important to...

Either way, I thought I would be a good idea to see if I can see a counselor at school everyone in a while just in case anything comes up that I don;t know how to handle.

We learned a lot about self disclosure to clients at school, but nothing about self disclosure to coworkers... how does that work?

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Hey, I'm back!

I'm starting my practicum soon and now I'm really thinking about if/how/when to disclose my history of abuse to my supervisor, I think it will be super important to do, but it's scary.

I made an appointment with an advisor at school to talk about it.

Thing is, I'm not sure why I'm so anxious about disclosing. I think I'm scared of being judged, which is a bit silly silly considering I'll be surrounded in people who know a lot about domestic violence.

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Heather
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I think one good takeaway from this that would really help you when working with others is around shame. In other words, some of what you're feeling is probably, at least in part, the shame we or anyone tends to commonly feel around having been abused. And even when we've done a LOT of work in healing, even when we're at the point where we're ready to help others, that doesn't mean it magically goes away. If only! [Smile]

But I'm really glad that you're feeling able to think more about disclosing and are getting some help with that process, and I am certain you're going to be wonderful for the people you help.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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it's totally shame.

I'm also worried that people would think that my past would cloud my judgement. It came up a few months ago in a coversation with a friend about abuse. She sort of accused me of being biased and not being able to to think about it clearly. If a close friend can think that of me, I'm worried what strangers (who are evaluating me!) will think... (even though I know the specific example we argued over WAS for sure abusive behaviour)

I think I'm also worried that she was right. [Frown]

I might chicken out tomorrow when I go talk to the advisor.

Oh, and I'm also worried that if I do start talking about it, I'll get nervous and I'll cry (I cry for ALL strong emotions, good and bad) and that then they will really think I'm not up to it...

[ 09-06-2011, 07:14 PM: Message edited by: gazelle123 ]

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eryn_smiles
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Hope it goes well when you talk to your advisor tomorrow. I would think that your supervisors and examiners would be more knowledgeable than your friend about survivors working in the area of domestic violence. What makes you think your friend might be right? You mentioned in your first post that you got a lot of help following that relationship and still do when you need to, and I think that's really healthy.

I'm also someone who cries at important times, like when someone is caring or encouraging towards me. But I think it can be ok to show those emotions when you need to. It means that you're sensitive and human. A friend once said to me that when you cry on the inside you drown your strength.

Anyway, I wish you all the best. You sound like a caring person who'll be really good at this job [Smile] .

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quote:
Originally posted by eryn_smiles:
when you cry on the inside you drown your strength.

Thanks Eryn, I LOVE this (I will likely use it!)

The meeting went really well, and I was struck by nervous laughter instead of tears, haha! Anyways, I'm much more confident about what I'm doing now.

As for why I'm worried that my judgement will be clouded by my past, I don't really know why I feel that way, but I think my friend really hit home when she said that and made it much worse. I think part of it is just being ashamed, like Heather said, and still feeling like I'm somehow weak for 'letting' it happen to me. And part of it might also be feelings of worthlessness left over from the abuse.

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Heather
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In terms of what you just last said, maybe think about it like this: by all means, when we're doing this kind of work, it's important we do our best to stay aware of our biases, and if and when we might be projecting our own experiences, as well as our triggers, etc.

But that is something everyone needs to be doing, whether they're a survivor or not. And I have every confidence that if you did not feel as capable of doing that as the next person, you'd not be seeking this kind of work out. After all, one thing you know very personally non-survivors often don't is how much crummy help could hurt, not help, a person in this situation.

(And eryn, I agree, that's an amazing sentence.)

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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you guys are so good at this!
thanks

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Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I made it through the semester at the shelter, and I didn't get triggered once! yay!
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Heather
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Oh, big yay! How did it go for you otherwise?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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