by Jean McAllister, MSW

All of the wellness research identifies the presence and use of social support as the most effective tool for protecting wellness when people work with or are exposed to seriously traumatic material. Many of us are aware of this and focus on making sure we stay connected to our team members at work and make time for family at home. These are excellent ways to access and use social support, but they are not the only ones. I would like us to take a moment to think about another source of social support that is available to us and that offers some different kinds of support: our colleagues in disciplines different than our own.

Working with ICAC to stop the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, and to rescue and protect those children who have already been impacted involves many different professionals: law enforcement, forensic examiners, forensic interviewers, sexual assault nurse examiners or other medical professionals, child protection, victim advocacy, prosecution, psychotherapists, and often probation or parole officers. What is wonderful about this, is that people from many of these disciplines have different skill sets, training and perspectives. It means we have access to ideas about supporting wellness from a variety of differing perspectives, not just our own. Some of us have the good fortune to work in part or in whole on formal multidisciplinary teams. Others of us work with other disciplines regularly, but the relationships are more informal.

In my own history, while working as a psychotherapist who also testified in child sexual exploitation and abuse cases, it was law enforcement officers who taught me the importance of movement and exercise in my wellness routine.  In fact, one officer actually inspired me to start rollerblading, the exercise that became my favorite of all time. It was rare that my fellow therapists talked about exercise. They often suggested mindfulness practices, meditation, or breathing. Sometimes child therapists think about playful or funny interventions in a way that people who work mostly with adults don’t. Next time you are needing something new in your wellness toolbox, think about asking someone in a different discipline what they do. It might be outside your typical behavior, and it might bring something wonderful into your life.

Having multidisciplinary partners can also help in other ways. They can advocate to meet our organizational or programming needs in ways different than we would.  When I worked in a local hospital and behavioral health system, our trauma treatment team had repeatedly sought to develop a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program at our hospital. Our local community did not have such a program and the emergency physicians who often examined children who had been sexually abused were inconsistent at best in participating in cases in ways that actually protected the children we served. Despite bringing it to hospital management for several years, we were unsuccessful. While serving on a planning committee with one of the local police chiefs, I shared what we wanted to do. He was immediately supportive, and even better, he golfed with the CEO of our Hospital system. He agreed to request a meeting and ask for the SANE program. He took the local elected DA with him. Asking as law enforcement and prosecution leaders, they were able to convince the CEO of the importance of having well trained and effective sexual assault forensic examinations to create successful cases and consequent protection of the community. Sometimes it takes a variety of organizations to support something, before policy makers or leaders are willing to listen and act in response.

Jean McAllister, MSW
Jean is an independent consultant and trainer with her own business, JGM Consulting LLC, and has more than 30 years of experience working to address trauma and interpersonal violence. Her work has focused on sexual assault, child abuse and sexual abuse, domestic violence, trauma and victimization, offender dynamics, secondary trauma intervention, stress management,  organizational development and policy development.