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When It Comes To Trauma, Who Helps The Helpers?

Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr.
U.S. Air Force
A first responder consoles a hurricane victim in Texas.

From veterans returning from Iraq, to survivors of mass shootings, to those putting together the pieces after a hurricane--we know that the emotional and psychological scars of violence and tragedies sometimes last even longer than physical wounds.

But what is the psychological toll on those who help victims of traumatic experiences?

We talk with Dr. Megan Berthold, professor of social work at UConn, about the often-unrecognized "secondary" trauma that first responders, journalists, and aid workers, among others, sometimes experience in working closely with victims of trauma.

We also sit down with Michael Kehoe, the former Police Chief of Newtown, Connecticut, whose department responded to the school mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We hear how the experience of that tragedy has led him to start a national conversation about mental health in police departments around the country.

And we hone in on the trauma journalists encounter covering tragic events, as well as the responsible ways media should report on trauma in their communities.

Do you work with people who have experienced trauma? How has that affected you?

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Dr. Megan Berthold - Associate Professor at UConn’s School of Social Work
  • Michael Kehoe - former Police Chief of the Newtown Police Department. He was the chief that responded to the Sandy Hook school shooting
  • Senator Cathy Osten- State Senator to the Connecticut General Assembly from Sprague (@CathyOsten)
  • Bruce Shapiro - Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a project of the Columbia Journalism School


Wall Street Journal:  Sandy Hook School Shooting: The Police Five Years On (December 2017) – “The Sandy Hook school shooting helped accelerate how police departments approach mental-health care for their officers, particularly in preparing for mass-casualty events. It prompted many police chiefs across the U.S. to become more receptive to proactively addressing trauma.”

Reuters: Aid workers, assuming survivors' agony, at risk of 'vicarious trauma'(September 2015) – “[Vicarious trauma] affects people who help traumatized survivors of violence or abuse by conducting in depth consultations about their experiences. Aid workers are at risk of the condition because they are often emotionally and socially isolated, living and working in difficult environments far from home, friends and family, and often lacking adequate training and healthcare.”

Columbia Journalism Review: Anticipating the daily traumas of local reporting (August 2018) - “Nobody wants to be the reporter who, when something big happens, the editor thinks, ‘We can’t send that person,’” Blanchard says. “We as newsrooms and editors have to be fine when someone comes back and says, ‘I’m having trouble with something I’ve covered, do you have a minute to talk?’”

Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired on September 25, 2018.

Lucy leads Connecticut Public's strategies to deeply connect and build collaborations with community-focused organizations across the state.
Carmen Baskauf was a producer for Connecticut Public Radio's news-talk show Where We Live, hosted by Lucy Nalpathanchil from 2017-2021. She has also contributed to The Colin McEnroe Show.

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