April 13, 2011

Agency in a traumatic situation

A guest post by Stanus Cloete from South Africa (www.agosolf.co.za)

The past week I was asked by the police to assist three employees on site after being traumatised by a single armed robber who robbed the small convenient store. Fortunately none of the employees were physically hurt. I saw the three clients individually right after the police took their statements.

Although all three interviews were different there were some common denominators to it. I introduced myself and clarified my role in the situation. I was there to assist them in the traumatic situation and on the road of the criminal justice system forward if needed. I purposefully decided not to ask them about the details of the robbery as this could aggravate their trauma. Instead I would look for opportunities to help them discover positive agency in a traumatic situation in order to help them understand that they are more than passive victims. I started all three interviews with the question of what will tell them this was a useful conversation. I gave throughout the interview process compliments to strengthen positive agency and highlight their resources to work through this trauma. We closed all three interviews with a scaling question of usefulness, what lies behind their ratings, some suggestions to keep on doing that has worked for them in the situation as well as an invitation for a follow up interview if wanted.

Client one was the cashier. She stated that she did not need any help as she had previously experienced a robbery and had a good support system at home. She felt she had remained calm and kept a cool head under the circumstances. During the conversation she mentioned that she decided from her previous experience not to resist the robber but to fool him by only opening the petty cash part of the till. He only got away with ZAR 180 (18 Euro). We complimented her on the non-resistance and learning from experience. We investigated what she has learned from this experience. We stressed her clear thinking under pressure as a resource in working through the bad experience as well as her support system at home.

Client two is a general assistant. She wanted help to know how she could work ‘free’ of crime in the same shop again. I asked her: “Is there a place where you could work ‘freely’ without the danger of crime?” She stated that there was no such place and that even at home she had to be careful at all times. I then asked her: “What did you do to remain ‘careful’ in this situation?” She told me how she walked towards the till when she saw what she thought was an aggravated customer, how the robber told her to go away or he would shoot her, how she kept her mouth shut and slowly walked away towards a hidden backdoor and left the shop to call for help. We complimented her on ‘keeping her mouth shut’ and especially on walking away ‘slowly’ to get outside help stressing that she must be a strong woman to be able to do that. We also complimented her on trying to assist the cashier with a difficult ‘client’ as this is the way we help each other to work ‘free’ of fear from crime.

Client three is also a general assistant. She wanted help not to be scared anymore, to forget what happened and to be able to focus on her work in future. I said to her: “OK, this was a bad experience, but I want to ask you a very strange question if I may. Tell me, what was good in this bad experience?” She gave a long list of ‘good’ things including the that she noticed carefully the appearance and clothing of the robber, the fact that she slipped out the backdoor to call for help and that she ran to the front side of the shop and pointed out the robber to another shop owner who pursued the robber at a safe distance which lead to the apprehension of the robber by the police. This gave us plenty opportunity for complimenting and stressing her resources to work through the bad experience.

All three employees rated the conversations very high as helpful, were visibly more relaxed at the end and left the interview smiling to continue work in the store.

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