Forewarned is forearmed

I can’t face the subject: do I have to
do this training course?

This question was put to me by a care
assistant at 9am one morning when I had arrived to provide a
training course on elder abuse in a residential home. It is a
common plight in many different settings for workers who may have
been abused in the past or are currently living in abusive or
violent situations.

I have been providing training courses on both
child and adult abuse for the past 13 years. I am becoming more and
more concerned about the considerable numbers of workers who
disclose to me that they have been abused, and many of them have
been unable to tell their managers that they will find the training
course difficult.

This raises all sorts of issues for the worker
and the trainer, but also for managers and their organisations.

I usually train two or three days each working
week. During the past year I have kept a record of how many course
participants disclose to me about abuse – it is exactly one third –
this includes men and women. Some have been abused in childhood or
earlier adulthood, some are still involved in abusive or violent

Various situations arise on courses and
participants have had a variety of experiences.

– Some have dealt with their abuse issues and
have healed. They feel they can now deal with other people’s
abuse and during a course may even want to share some of their

– Some have unresolved issues and cannot face
working with abuse or having to come on a course.

– Some have buried the past, want it to remain
well hidden, but know that at some point in the future – but
definitely not now – they will have to face what happened to

– Some believe they have dealt with their own
abuse and are ready to work with service users who are being/have
been abused. However, the course throws up issues for them and they
realise they are not ready to face this work.

The trainer can be faced with all sorts of
behaviours: withdrawal, crying, aggression, and on occasions I have
had participants being physically sick. Inexperienced trainers
(especially those who may have volunteered to become part of an
in-house training pool) may struggle with these problems and it is
important that they are prepared by:

– Not training alone, so one trainer can deal
with the participant who discloses.

– Having a spare room for the comfort and
safety of the disclosee.

– Assessing whether the disclosee will need
further support.

– Having support networks for themselves which
they can use to debrief after the course; trainers also need

But workers should not have to be put through
this. Organisations have a responsibility to protect their workers
from further abuse, which is what it feels like for some workers
when they have to attend a course on abuse. Other workers may never
have given “abuse” much thought, apart from reading the cases which
are highlighted in the press.

Organisations have to acknowledge that a large
number of their workforce may have been victims of abuse or
violence. So they should:

– Publicise in detail the course subject
matter. Workers should be alerted to the fact that the course may
be difficult or distressing for some workers because of personal

– Ensure that workers know they can talk to
their managers in confidence about their personal issues and
anxieties relating to attendance at a training course.

– Allow workers to opt out of attending the
course if it is going to be detrimental to their emotional

– Offer support or referral for
counselling/therapy if a worker has unresolved issues regarding
their own abuse.  







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