Trauma train­ing pushes stu­dents’ com­fort zone

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By POPPY WORTMAN

Stu­dent jour­nal­ists are ‘‘cross­ing the fault lines’’ to get pre­pared for trau­matic sit­u­a­tions they might face once they are work­ing.

The AUT Univer­sity jour­nal­ism de­part­ment is in­volv­ing their stu­dents in har­row­ing sce­nar­ios, where ac­tors play emo­tional in­ter­view sub­jects.

Se­nior lec­turer Lyn Barnes says re­search shows trauma can have a drip-by-drip ef­fect on re­porters’ states of mind if not dealt with.

‘‘To deal with death, you have to push your­self out of your com­fort zone. It’s called ‘ cross­ing the fault lines’. It’s find­ing out where your weak­nesses are.

‘‘To be a jour­nal­ist you have to be able to deal with all sorts of things, so you have to con­front some of those is­sues.’’

This year the 44 stu­dents faced two sit­u­a­tions – one in­ter­view­ing a ‘‘grand­fa­ther’’ of a drowned child, and the other a wit­ness of a fatal car ac­ci­dent.

The in­ter­views were filmed for the stu­dents to re­flect on af­ter­wards.

Stu­dent Jarred Williamson says he did not know what to ex­pect.

‘‘It felt real. I think for the first minute you’re sit­ting there think­ing ‘What the hell’s go­ing on?’, but then your head tells you to calm down and un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion and be em­pa­thetic and be care­ful with your ques­tions.

‘‘It’s been a re­ally eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me,’’ Mr Williamson says.

Stu­dent Stephanie ArthurWor­sop says be­fore­hand she felt ‘‘sick to her stom­ach’’.

‘‘I hon­estly didn’t know how I would re­act to the sit­u­a­tion and that I would just freeze up and not be able to do my job prop­erly.

‘‘I was a bit re­lieved to find that I was able to sep­a­rate my per­sonal and my pro­fes­sional self, and that I re­mained rel­a­tively com­posed.’’

Miss Arthur-Wor­sop says the ex­er­cise will def­i­nitely help her in the fu­ture.

‘‘Now I know what it’s like to be face-to-face with a vis­i­bly dis­tressed per­son and how to get in­for­ma­tion from them.’’

Ms Barnes first started look­ing into trauma re­port­ing af­ter the Christchurch earth­quake in 2011.

‘‘It was also talk­ing to some of the other novice journos too, who said, ‘ What about us jour­nal­ists who deal with day-to-day trauma?’. . . so I thought, OK, I need to look at that.’’

Af­ter pre­sent­ing her find­ings at a con­fer­ence in Ade­laide, Ms Barnes was ap­proached by a woman from the Columbian Uni- ver­sity Dart Cen­ter for Jour­nal­ism and Trauma, who en­cour­aged her to ap­ply for a fel­low­ship.

Ms Barnes was one of 14 se­lected from around the world.

Dur­ing the ‘‘in­ten­sive’’ week­long course in New York the group were up­skilled in how to teach trauma lit­er­acy, which AUT is now do­ing.

Af­ter the first role-play sit­u­a­tion last year, Ms Barnes says they re­ceived a pos­i­tive re­sponse from stu­dents.

‘‘One of the kids emailed me at the start of the year . . . one of her first jobs was to go out and do a death knock.

‘‘She was so grate­ful she’d had that ex­pe­ri­ence to learn to deal with raw emo­tion, so she thought more care­fully about her ques­tions and about how she ap­proached the fam­ily.’’

Ms Barnes says her goal is to see steps in­tro­duced ear­lier on in the course, not just in stu­dents’ fi­nal year.

‘‘We don’t have mass shoot­ings like in the States, but we have our own dis­as­ters, our own tragedies. . . .

‘‘We just think we live in this lit­tle bub­ble in New Zealand and these things don’t hap­pen. But they do.’’

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