Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Kristen Holzapfel talks about "Selfless: a social worker's own story of trauma and recovery"

Let's welcome author Kristen Holzapfel to Promote Me Please. Kristen stepped up to answer five questions about her book Selfless: a social worker's own story of trauma and recovery

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Q.1. "Selfless: a social worker's own story of trauma and recovery." This is an explanatory title. Is it autobiographical or biographical?

A.1. "Selfless" is autobiographical. I undertook a fair bit of research about burnout, Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma in order to make sense of my own feelings and behaviours and included many references throughout. I wanted my story to be read as a case study of how trauma looks/sounds/feels as well as the personal and professional impact.

In my case, Vicarious Trauma occurred after several years working in Child Protection Services and the symptoms manifested as an eating disorder (Anorexia). The weight loss occurred very suddenly while I was in my late twenties, eventually leading to hospitalisation a couple of years later. Prior to this time, I'd enjoyed a healthy relationship with food and never believed I was at risk of an illness like this.

Vicarious Trauma blindsided me; I'd had no understanding I was so vulnerable or that the effects would be so pervasive.

Q.2. What motivated you to write this book?

A.2. As I was researching the topic, many helping professionals (nurses, paramedics, police officers, teachers etc) told me they wished they'd read a book like this when they were studying. Others told me they'd experienced something similar. All agreed that there were few books written (honestly) from the helper perspective and that this was probably due to the stigma surrounding Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma.

I researched the topic to gain a better understanding of how the trauma impacted me the way it did. There was so much I didn't know and felt compelled to share what I'd learned as it seemed essential knowledge for all helping professionals.

My goal is to start a much-needed conversation about Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma and how helping professionals can be better supported in the workplace. Helpers are often the last people to ask for help, preferring to focus on those they signed up to help - their clients. There is so much more we can do to support them and their vital work.

Q.3. Did the length of the title cause any problems with the book design?

A.3. Not at all. The cover design is simple and the main title ("Selfless") is short. The subtitle ("a social worker's own story of trauma and recovery") is smaller and so fits in pretty easily.

The subtitle was important as I wanted to:
(a) advertise that this was a first hand account,
(b) name the issue of trauma (in association with social work)
(c) emphasise that recovery is possible.

Q.4. Would you say the experiences of the main character were common among social workers?

A.4. Oh yes. Almost universally, helpers experience too much work and too little time to do it in. They're expected to makes miracles happen and have nerves of steel. When clients realise helpers don't have all the answers, their view of these professionals takes a nosedive. In this way, helpers are often viewed as either super-human or sub-human.

I hope that my book portrays what it's like to be a social worker who is human; no more or less.

Q. 5. How much do the problems of others impact on the main character's own wellbeing?

A.5.  Vicarious Trauma can occur when a helper has a high caseload of acutely traumatised clients and is not provided with the time or support to process/make sense of the emotional impact that is inevitably transferred from client to helper. The symptoms can be similar to those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

To read more about Selfless, check out this page.


  1. Thanks Kristen and Sally for this interview. Selfless sounds like a pivotal book in an important area. Very much needed. I notice the book is available on your website, Kristen. Is it also available on Amazon or in bookstores? Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the referral, Jeanette:-)