Common Triggers and Trauma of Therapists, First Responders, and Helpers with Jessica Wright | POP 868

A photo of Jessica Wright is captured. She is an LCSW and the owner of Wright Choice Counselling. Jessica is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

Which traumas or triggers do most first responders and helpers struggle with? How does a simple act of self-care make a huge impact on your day? How do you care for yourself amidst clients, work, and family?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about some of the common triggers and trauma of therapists, first responders, and helpers with Jessica Wright.

Podcast Sponsor: Blueprint

A photo of the Blueprint podcast sponsor is captured. Blueprint sponsor the Practice of the Practice podcast.

Providing great therapy day after day can be challenging – even for the best of us!

At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your best work, which is why they created a platform that provides therapists with an array of clinical tools – things like therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, and digital assessments – that are designed to help you and your clients can stay connected and confident throughout the care journey. Even better, Blueprint helps streamline your documentation so that you can spend less time on your notes and more time on the things that matter.

To learn more and request a free 30-day trial, visit blueprint-health.com

Meet Jessica Wright

A photo of Jessica Wright is captured. She is an LCSW and the owner of Wright Choice Counselling. Jessica is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

Jessica Wright, is an LCSW with 15 years of experience helping the helpers. She is the owner of Wright Choice Counseling, a faith-based practice in Illinois and WA state. She specializes in assisting the helpers to decrease their stress and burnout and improve their marriages.

Visit Wright Choice Counseling and connect on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Email: jessica@wrightchoicecounseling.com

In This Podcast

  • Being a helper of helpers
  • The power of a simple act
  • Common traumas and triggers for first responders
  • Jessica’s advice to private practitioners

Being a helper of helpers

When you’re getting certified with Gottman, there’s a really good PTSD training he offers that he talks about [in] our whole Sound House … all of that is shifted when you’re a helper.

Jessica Wright

If you work as a helper; a therapist, a first responder, or anyone else in the industry, your life often takes on a very different shape from those around you.

As a helper, your self-care needs to look a little different from the average person around you so that you can maintain your emotional, mental, and physical needs to keep continuing to serve others without sacrificing yourself.

The power of a simple act

Self-care does not need to take a long time or be a big event you need to commit a huge amount of energy to. A powerful yet simple act of self-care can be just going for a walk.

If you have had a difficult day with clients as a therapist, or you are struggling with emotionally bringing work home with you, going for even a five- to ten-minute walk can do wonders in relieving tension, clearing your mind, and getting a fresh perspective.

[Going for a short walk] can [help you] to find a sense of peace and [give] grace to [your] partners or kids that are driving [you] crazy when [you’re] stressed out.

Jessica Wright

Common traumas and triggers for first responders

1 – “I’m responsible” – taking ownership and responsibility for everyone’s emotions, mental states, or actions and helping them through those consequences.

2 – “I’m in control” – never allowing vulnerability into play or letting someone else support you when you need it.

3 – “Black and white thinking” – feeling like you have to do the tough things and you have to help people whenever there is help needed somewhere.

These are the common issues that many helpers or first responders struggle with both in their professional and personal lives.

If you find yourself struggling with these problems, try some of the following steps to reconnect with your center:

  • Come back to your values: use your values as a compass to guide you back to what truly matters instead of getting lost in doing everything for everyone without thinking it through.

Knowing what you value is a big [help to reduce triggers]. For me, I value peace, so if I’m seeing 30 clients a week and working full-time … I don’t feel peace anymore, I feel exhausted.

Jessica Wright
  • Connect with your community: whether it is fellow colleagues or loved ones, make space and time to connect with the people that truly see and love you outside of the services that you provide. Let yourself be supported by them.
  • Enforce boundaries: enforce your boundaries with yourself and with others.

Jessica’s advice to private practitioners

Find something that brings you joy and doesn’t feel like work – and don’t post it on social media! Don’t hustle it, and keep it as something just for you.

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Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] You can spend lots of time going on YouTube, reading people’s blogs, even listening to podcasts like this, but if you can find someone you trust and you understand what they’re teaching, they can save you time if you just follow them, if you dive into what they’re looking at teaching you. That’s why we put together pillarsofpractice.com, a totally free e-course to help you, whether you’re a solo practitioner or a group practitioner, to get the basic checklists and trainings that you need to rock out your private practice. Head on over to pillarsofpractice.com to get access to this free e-course. Again, that’s pillarsofpractice.com. This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 868. I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. We have been doing specialty month all month. We’re really excited about all the different people that we’ve had on here. We’re actually going to do this into a second month. So we have been doing this throughout all of April, and we’re going to continue throughout May about different things that people are specializing in and I am so excited today. I have Jessica Wright. Jessica is an LCSW with 15 years of experience helping the helpers. She’s the owner of Right Counseling, Right Choice Counseling, a faith-based practice in Illinois and Washington State, where she specializes in helping the helpers decrease their stress and burnout and improve their marriages. Also, EMDR, level one and two trained, Gottman Couples Counseling and five+ years in corrections as a first responder, specializing in working with PTSD and Anxiety. Jessica, welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. [JESSICA WRIGHT] Hello. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited. [JOE] Yeah, I’m so excited to have you here today and to hear about your specialty areas. Let’s just start off with how did you get into this work? [JESSICA] Sure. So I have many, many years working as a first responder, whether it’s in Child Protective Services, working with military, headstart families. Currently I also work in prison. I’ve actually, I always joked that I’ve been in prison for five years now and what I found from that work is that helpers really do love differently and the type of couples counseling we get is really important to understand that PTSD could be involved in that work when you’re doing couples work. [JOE] So throughout, have you mostly focused on helping the helpers, like therapists and helpers, or was that just something that came later on? [JESSICA] I mean, it did come early. When I was in a group practice a few years ago working for someone else, I had a lot of pastors that would come to me and they had no one to help them. They really felt like they had no idea who to talk to, and it just kept going when I, because I started my counseling business three years ago, telehealth, while I was working in prison. That was like my side hustle. I used to listen to your podcast and felt very inspired by that and like, oh, I can do these thoughts. Then I realized when people got the word that I worked in a prison environment, I’m a mental health supervisor over there in prison, then they started naturally coming to me in the world. [JOE] Now, so when did it go from being interested in this to then getting all the different specializations? So we’re talking EMDR, Gottman, PTSD, anxiety. When did you realize, well, I need some more training here? [JESSICA] Yeah, so when I was in that group practice, I had so many people that would, especially like women that would be very, very anxious and I realized just talking about it wasn’t moving them through that very well. They were having thoughts like, I’m not good enough, I’m responsible and it kept circling. So we’d sort of have the whole session about these negative thoughts. Then I remembered in grad school, they actually did EMDR on us in the class, like that was part of our curriculum and it changed my life personally. So I just went to the training in Chicago and just kept dabbling in the things I loved. Gottman is, Gottman Institute, I went to University of Washington. That’s where I’m from originally, like Washington area. So with couples work too, I just kept thinking, I know that there’s more I can do than just trying to help them with conflict. Like there’s actually research out there of what makes and breaks couples, so I merged them, if that makes sense. [JOE] Now, when you think about doing EMDR and couples work and having that specialty around helping helpers what are some things that you would hope that every single therapist, whether or not they’re trained in those areas, would have a working understanding of? [JESSICA] So just knowing that, knowing what the sound house relationship is that Gottman talks about. I don’t know who all knows what, but if you can literally Google the sound relationship house or people can email me if they want a copy or whatever, but just knowing the work that Gottman did around watching couples and love labs was based on just any couple who came in. It wasn’t necessarily ones with trauma or ones, you know had like a lot of anxiety. It’s just anyone that was a luck at the draw. So there’s a really good, when you’re getting certified in Gottman, there’s a really good PTSD, like basically a training that he offers that he talks about how our whole sound house, like our friendship, creating meaning of the world, all of it is shifted when you’re a helper. [JOE] Now, how do you personally apply that in your life, being a helper of helpers and, like what do you in your own relationships apply on a regular basis? [JESSICA] Oh my gosh, so guess what? I’m married to an Air Force man and he works in a job that every day he’s on the highway and he could be hit by a car, like, Lord forbid. So we both have triggers and we both have to do little things like have a stress reducing conversation every week where you’re literally just one person’s listening, one person’s speaking, “Hey, what’s the most stressful thing that’s happening to you in your world right now?” The rule of it is you can’t get to problem solving. And most men love to, they might feel uncomfortable with feeling, so they just get to a solution and so they actually aren’t, he’s not allowed to give me solutions or vice versa until we both understand what the issue is and have consented to giving a solution that’s life changing for us. [JOE] Now, when you’re working with couple, or do you mostly work specifically with the couple or with individuals that are in a relationship? [JESSICA] Typically, it’s stressed-out women who come in first and they’re complaining about their partners and then we do some work with EMDR, their perfectionism issues, that type of thing, and then we bring their partners in and do couples. [JOE] Okay, now, so looking at that flow when there’s a stressed-out woman that’s frustrated with her relationship, what are some key competencies that you would say therapists need to have if working with that specific clientele? [JESSICA] So, just knowing if you’re, I mean, typically, right, like a stressed-out person in general might struggle to even have time to go to the gym and to work out. So there’s a lot of research just on burnout prevention and stress reducing, and just knowing, usually the first thing to go is exercise. Or finding ways to calm down that fight or flight response, so just realizing, like getting that set up for them. Like, okay, what do you do for self-care? How do you get out rid of this energy and stress? That’s a big piece. I start making them, I mean, if the doctor’s okay with it, they’ll do like just a walk five times a week. It’s a baby step thing, but it helps. [JOE] And when they have that habit of going for a walk what do you see change even just in that sort of self-care? [JESSICA] Just finding a sense of peace and giving more grace to their partners and their kids who drive them crazy when they’re super stressed out. I mean, that’s what kids are supposed to do, it’s their job to, they know when we’re stressed, just giving them some space. For me, I realized three years ago working, doing the practice and full-time prison work that I didn’t have time for me, so I started getting up an hour early. That time even now is so sacred. Like, that is my time for exercise or reading, or I started my business at that time. [JOE] Man, people that get up early, I just, that is not in my gene pool, but I do have to get up at 6:05 for my daughter to get off to school. So the idea of getting up even earlier than that, I think that by the end of the day when, the girls are still young, so it’s like they’re in bed by 8:30, so my sacred time is like 9 to 10 for sure is like a perfect silent time there. They’re asleep by then. Even, I think the idea of walks, I have a neighborhood that has probably a third of a mile to half mile loop, even just between if I have a cancellation to just get in a walk or text a neighbor and be like, “Hey, you want to do a quick loop?” It’s amazing how it just helps, I have back issues, even just helps with my back issues or just general stress to do those walks. Now what would be next? So people start walking, they, you are seeing some improvements. What would be some techniques or things that you would start to work on after they get some decent self-care going? [JESSICA] Yeah, so knowing what their current priorities are in life really helps, like, just no judgment, but having them write down top to bottom what currently, if everyone, if your mom called you, the same time work called you, same time your kid called you or your husband, whatever, who would be, what would be the first thing to focus on? Like right now what are you currently focusing on? A lot of times that anxiety says they need to focus on everything equally. Like work is just as important as my exercise, is just, so we just notice it first and then we do a revise to the right of it, of what do you want it to be like? [JOE] That really reminds me of Warren Buffett. There’s a story that his, I think it was like his airline pilot or something like that said what’s the secret of, I forgot exactly how the question went, something like what’s the secret of getting done all the things you want to get done or something like that and Warren Buffett said, well write down your 10 really, really big goals. So this guy wrote down 10 goals and then he said, eliminate nine of them. It was just that idea of like, the one thing, or going after like, the big thing or what’s really the most important and going to give you the best return in investment for your time. Now people start to do that. Do they struggle with that usually to really focus in on those things? Or do they get it and then start applying it pretty quickly? [JESSICA] I mean, it does work for things like when their spouses come home, usually they would kiss the kids first. So for me, when I revise, I had a coach that actually helped me do this. So I apply some of this work coachy in a way but just realizing that before I had everything as a yes and then now it shifts to, for me and my own beliefs, God first, husband second, kids third. And sometimes kids might have, I have two kids, sometimes one might be sick or whatever, so knowing it can shift. And that’s all my tier one. So those are the priority. So if I think about expanding on the business, for example, but my kids are sick today, like maybe I should shift that priority, just knowing when to shift. So that’s just part of it is just being present and understanding, oh, that’s why I’m so anxious. My values are off of what I really want. [JOE] Well, I think it really points to also the idea of doing your best to decide what you want life to be. Now there’s going to be things that totally throw curve balls that you don’t see coming, but to be intentional around what’s the value set I personally have for my business, for my family, for how I want my life to be? Because it seems like so many people just spend their lives reacting or being triggered by things around them and their boss comes in and freaks out and then they personalize it and go into mental tailspin or whatever instead of just saying, okay, let me just focus in on what my job is, what I need to do, and be intentional in that area to put those first things that you want in your calendar in there first. [JESSICA] Yeah, completely. Yeah, there’s a lot, with all this work, just burnout and I’m just, I mean, I have so many things to talk about with burnout, that’s the book that’s been writing in my head, but how a lot of times as business owners. We have this hustle, this hustler inside and the hustler tells us we got to work through the back pain or just keep going, going and seeing another client because they’re giving us more money or whatever, but realizing, hey, I can’t keep going at this level. What do I need to do? Like, you talk a lot about scaling, like what do I need to do to shift and pivot? So I’m not so burnt out. [BLUEPRINT] Providing great therapy day after day can be challenging even for the best of us. At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your best work, which is why they created a platform that provides therapists with an array of clinical tools, things like therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, and digital assessments that are designed to help you and your clients stay connected and confident throughout the care journey. Even better, Blueprint helps streamline your documentation so you can spend less time on your notes and more time on the things that matter. To learn more and request a 30-day free trial, visit blueprint-health.com. [JOE SANOK] Now it seems like, so there’s the proactive side, so there’s the walks, the making lists of priorities and those things help us move forward in a lot of ways. But then there’s also sometimes things internally, whether it’s the trauma or triggers or things that we just, we got to like work through that in the same way we have to like, need doe It doesn’t just happen. We have to like get in there and do the hard work. What sort of common triggers or traumas or things do you see in helpers that pop up in their relationships, in their own personal work in giving themselves even permission to go for walks? Like what are those mental blocks and triggers that you see most common in helpers? [JESSICA] Yeah, so the idea of I’m responsible really floats around in our minds when we’re helpers. I’m in control, that can show up of not really being vulnerable, like we’re only in counseling roles with all the people and it’s exhausting because then you’re wondering why no one calls you just for fun to say, “Hey, do you want to hang out?” They’re trying to get with their counselor or something. I think that it’s really, it’s struggling because it’s very black or white thinking. It’s just like you have to do the thing, you have to help people, you have to do versus, hey, maybe for me this year it’s been, hey, I can hire people that can also see clients. Maybe I don’t need to be all the things and do all the things. [JOE] What’s it take to overcome that? Because a lot of the reason people go into therapy and working in therapy or working to be a helper is because they have that natural empathic view of the world of wanting to really just help people. How do you help folks find that line between how much to help and that natural inclination towards it in setting boundaries and deciding when they need to say no? [JESSICA] I mean, just knowing what you value is big. Like for me, I value peace. So if I’m seeing like 30 clients a week and working full-time in prison, I don’t feel peace anymore. I feel exhausted. So that’s a big piece, just checking in with that. Having community is, was really important in my journey. I realized the more I help people, the more, I didn’t really have my own people to help me and you feel lonely. So I had to work really hard on being vulnerable with people and figuring out, okay, who can I be friends with and then how to have that boundary that, no, I can’t be your therapist, but I do have a good therapist out in the world? I live in a very small town in Vandalia, Illinois, so it is a very, I mean it’s, I think we have 14,000 people here. So I went from Washington state, big area, Tacoma, Washington to this small town, so it’s slim pickings to find your people that you’re not their therapist. [JOE] Yeah, and so really just setting those boundaries, making sure it’s clear that in friendships. I can only help so much refer out, give, book recommendations, things like that. [JESSICA] Yeah. [JOE] Now if people are hearing this and they’re thinking, I don’t know if I should refer out or if I should specialize in, when would you say that it’s important for folks to refer someone out to an EMDR therapist or a Gottman couples’ therapist versus them doing their own learning? Like what’s that break point where you really should refer these types of people out? [JESSICA] Yeah, so I mean, when they have a lot of PTSD in the marriage then that for me took a lot of specialty training to figure out how to work specifically when you have that — [JOE] Now when you say in the marriage, do you mean like because of the marriage, like between the couple or that they’re just bringing in PTSD from outside of it, like military service or working in a prison or something like that? [JESSICA] Yeah, good question. So typically, it’s from their job, so like people like me, we work in prison and we’re so exhausted when we get home. We have nothing left to give, like we’re pouring from an empty cup. So a lot of times the spouse will be like, “Why don’t you ever want to talk or listen?” Or they start becoming critical and then that makes PTSD, if you can kind of, it split out the PTSD from the person who like works in prison or the veteran and help that spouse get more angry at the PTSD part, not the person. It’s like the behavior you’re getting annoyed at. That part, that’s really, really healing for some of the, like police officers I’ve worked with, they were, the wives were on the verge of divorcing because the guy would just shut down like whenever they’d get home. So whenever you feel like, hey, I really need to consult or anything, I just recommend even start to consult with other people that specialize in this work. Basically, if you’re like Gottman Level Three or certified Gottman, you have this PTSD training, like it’s required for us, so it helps a lot. We focus on affairs. Affairs is a big one too. Like you have to know that there is PTSD as well because of the affair in the relationship, not even just because of work. So that is a very specialty piece that we get in that training. [JOE] I’m thinking about blind spots, so that example of a police officer that comes home and doesn’t want to talk like, I think that whether it’s a therapist or police officer, like I don’t want to stereotype specific job roles, but there are individuals that just don’t even realize what they’re doing and they don’t have the self-awareness of, yeah, I’m burned out, I hit my word count for the day, or I saw some crazy stuff at work. How do, because I can imagine that if there’s someone that no matter what their gender is coming to therapy, if they come to therapy, they’re seeking some level of self-awareness and then they may have a partner that doesn’t have that same chutzpah towards wanting to do that internal work. So when you see that mismatch or that blind spot, like how do you work through that, either as an individual therapist or as a couple’s therapist? [JESSICA] That’s a great question. So I used to walk around the prison and I would ask officers, what would it take for you to go to counseling? They tell me when my wife says she would divorce me, that’s my line. So I know what I’m working with in that it is very, there’s so much shame for first responders, a lot, even for us as counselors, like for me to go to a counselor, I have to know how the counselor would help me first. It’s really hard. So just knowing that that’s going to be difficult. I ask couples 0 to 100%, how much do you want to make this work? How much do you want the relationship to work and how much do you want to do this work? Because a lot of this work is habit change in relationships and it is not easy for anyone to do something different. [JOE] I mean, as a therapist, what’s your approach when it, if there is that mismatch and a couple is saying that they do want to work on it how do you allow the person that, like what do you do to encourage the person that is really seeking to grow and the other person that you can tell is maybe just going through the motions to not get divorced? Like how do you handle that and from a clinical perspective? [JESSICA] Part of the Gottman work is the first session we always do both of the partners together and the second session you do an individual with one of the partners. And I tend to put the one that is least motivated to do the work in that first session or that second session individually and just build that rapport with them. And I have a lot of things I say, like, I know it’s super awkward talking to a stranger about your business, and hey, I’d love to have feedback. How is this going? Just getting them to be rest assured that I’m not there to attack. We say there’s never any secrets, things like that to try to build that. I used a little bit of comedy, not on purpose, it’s just my personality. I know people like me when they smile a little bit, just a tiny bit it’s not so serious and so try to have some fun. I know it’s not fun for people, but just try to make it lighthearted, I guess. [JOE] Yeah. Now when you think about where you hope to go, just in your own career, like what’s next for you? [JESSICA] So my dream is to pivot a little bit. We have a new building in Vandellia. So after three years of doing telehealth, we’re actually in-person. I saw my first client last week. I’ve hired two different counselors and my dream is to do coaching with couples specifically like with helpers. So I’ve actually already made Helpers Love Differently podcast. I haven’t recorded yet because I’m trying to figure out the situation. and I have, I made a Helpers Love Differently course. And I’m working, I made a workbook and I’m also working on working with a book coach to actually make the book, finish writing the book. That’s my dream to really speak — [JOE] Wow, lots of stuff going on there. You’re in Audience Building right now. That’s amazing. [JESSICA] It’s one of those things if I don’t do it, I know someone else will. Like, we need to get the word out that helpers do love differently. [JOE] Absolutely. Well, the last question I always ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know? [JESSICA] Find something that is not counseling. Find something that brings you joy that doesn’t feel like work and don’t post it on social media. So I started knitting blankets and I’m not allowed to post it on social, it’s just for me. And I can’t hustle it. That’s the rules. [JOE] I love that. And Jessica, if people want to connect with you, if they want to read about your work, where should we send them? [JESSICA] Sure, rightchoicecounseling.com or you can check out our Facebook, Right Choice Counseling. And they can always email me, jessica@rightchoicecounseling.com. [JOE] Perfect. Well, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast. [JESSICA] Thank you very much. [JOE] I love it. I love how people like Jessica want to start something on the side and as it continues to grow and she still has her full-time job. There’s ways we could have gone into the business side of it, but to just hear that passion of helping people in that way and in the way that makes sense is so awesome. I hope that’s inspiring for you. We have lots more people coming up talking about their specialties throughout this month. And we couldn’t do this show without our amazing sponsors like Blueprint. At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your very best work. They have therapy worksheets, they have intervention ideas and digital assessments that are designed to help you and your clients stay connected. You can find out more and do a 30-day free trial over at blueprint-health.com. Again, that’s blueprint-health.com. Thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day. I’ll talk to you soon. Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the producers, the publishers, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.

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