Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Panzi Hospital Caregivers

Psychosocial staff: (l. to r.) Joseph, Sarah, Roger (my translator), Ester, Lidia, Helen, Yvette, Cecile, Pascaline, Rosa (front)

During this visit to Bukavu, I am working at Panzi Hospital to help its psychosocial staff. From previous experience in DRC, I know that caregivers at Panzi suffer from both Burnout and Vicarious Trauma, because they deal with severely traumatized patients.

Women survivors wait to see caregivers.

Violent rape is considered the most difficult trauma for therapists to treat, especially for women caregivers. The patient's sense of vulnerability, as well as despair and helplessness, are often taken in by the caregiver and experienced as her own-- we call this process Vicarious Trauma.

Lidia talks with a patient.

In the US and Europe, therapists have learned that Burnout and Vicarious Trauma are inevitable consequences of treating severe trauma. Sexual, gender-based violence (SGBV), combined with loss of spouse, home and community, is considered by many to be the worst trauma in the world . . . so it is not 'if' Vicarious Trauma will happen to caregivers, but 'when'.

Dr. Victoria and Dr. Mukwege at Panzi Hospital

I met with Dr. Mukwege, Founder and Director of Panzi Hospital, who shares my concern about his staff, and agreed to present an 8-session workshop for the nine caregivers who make up the psychosocial staff at his hospital.

Panzi Hospital Psychologists: Cecile and Joseph

Two psychologists lead a team of seven Social Assistants, some nurses, all women. This small group is responsible for the psychological care of 300 patients on a daily basis. They work six days a week, with 2 days a year off for vacations. Imagine that.

Pascaline poses with women patients in front of the nurse's office.

Yet despite shouldering responsibility that is off the scale by western standards, these caregivers are holding their own, still warm and caring, all in good health. Yes, the signs of Vicarious Trauma are there, all manifesting mild-to-moderate symptomatology depending on the individual. Several are struggling with more serious symptoms of secondary trauma.

Cecile and Pascaline check patient's progress.

When I completed the training, I recommended that the Administration do two things to improve the general health and emotional well-being of the psychosocial staff: 1) encourage caregivers to take at least one weekend off per month, and 2) schedule a peer counseling group once a week where caregivers can debrief their difficult cases.


This training was a great way for me to give back what I’ve learned over the years. I was delighted that they received value and want to continue using the skills I taught them.

With love and gratitude,

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