Weary from many long hours of assessments, treatment, travel, and training, I went with my family to see the new Star Wars movie. I’m a dreadful Star Wars fan; most of the time I smile my way through these movies because I don’t know what’s going on. They are pleasant to look at though, and remind me of when I waited in line for an hour or more to see the very first one in the theaters in the late 1970s, probably wearing the fashions of the times: an oversized down jacket and light-colored Frye boots.
Four decades on, I found myself resentful. Why are these characters considered heroic when my colleagues aren’t? After all, the people I work with may occasionally make mistakes or become misguided, but every one of them puts their all into a shared mission of healthier lives and safer communities. As many have observed, the beneficiaries of our work will never know to say thank you because they won’t have been abused. My colleagues are not, as one defense attorney in Wisconsin once said to me, the “Death Star.” The vast majority of people working from all perspectives towards the goal of eliminating abuse are all over-worked and under-paid. Maybe it’s that our costumes and transport aren’t as cool as the Star Wars characters. I’m quite certain I would not look as lithe climbing up the ladder of a spaceship as some of the figures in the movie.
Then I realized the difference: These characters don’t have to do case notes. They don’t know from DAP and SOAP formats, and couldn’t formulate a SMART goal if Princess Lea’s life depended on it. To my knowledge, there are no ethics-codes considerations around the use and misuse of protocol droids… or any robots for that matter. These characters have never done paperwork, nor worked with someone whose job involves cracking the whip on therapists to submit their documentation. It’s no wonder they’re all so attractive and confident. They’ve probably never had to write or review an incident report after a long shift!
Meanwhile, while we are working, no one who observes us is moved to eat popcorn. When we solve problems, we don’t know if they are actually solved until the researcher (probably from Canada) with the statistical-analysis package says it worked. But that is only 15 years into the future, and even then the final report will say that “more research is needed.” It’s deeply unfair; Star Wars doesn’t have a meaningful control group… and I don’t even get to have a John Williams soundtrack! All I get is the occasional Survey Monkey request for a research project studying PTSD symptoms of professionals in our field. And worse, no one is studying the dirty little secret of our work: the most piquant symptoms of trauma often come not from vicariously reliving the worst moments of others’ lives, but from our interactions with state licensing audits.
Although I have known some professionals who might be deserving of an award for their ability to bring drama into the workplace, I have to conclude that my colleagues are people whom few know to thank for their efforts. My neighbors and family long ago learned to be very careful about asking me how things are going at work, as the answer might cause them to dissociate. As I have joked many times, describing our work to an outsider often “makes their face go straight to screen-saver.” Indeed, we often forget how much work goes into protecting the sensitivities of those around us. Thanks to our professional boundaries and ethics, there is no room for anything that sounds like “Rogue One” in our field.
We may give up some dreams going into the work of eliminating sexual abuse, but I would argue that our dream is better and in some ways already coming true. The ordinary heroes that work in our field can point to a track record of reduced violence across the time since the first Star Wars movie came out. We can’t always prove that it was our efforts, but we are definitely part of the trend.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday Season… and then gets back to this excellent, meaningful work.
David S. Prescott, LICSW