7 ways to deal with vicarious trauma that are cheaper than therapy

I wrote about this before, 4 years ago when I was a Fellow at the nonprofit where I now work. There’s an expectation that people who work on ending human rights abuses will get a little messed up in the process. Some of this shows up in gallows-humor, some in intense reactions to depictions of our issues in the media, and some in over-consumption of chocolate. Below are 7 different approaches I or my colleagues have used.

This post isn’t a serious discussion of vicarious trauma. There are other places for that, and I may get to talking about that later, but let’s start with a bit of silliness. For the purposes of this post, a single session of talk-therapy is $125.

1. Do Nail Art

At $24 for a starter-kit, a nonprofit worker could buy 100 pretty colors for the cost of a single therapy session.

2. Fly Trapeze

At $50 – $60 a lesson, a nonprofit worker can fly with the greatest of ease twice.

3. See Fast & Furious 6 5 times, with popcorn and drinks

I only saw it 4 times, and 3 of those were with groups of different people. Still, at $20 for a movie with popcorn and a drink: cheaper than therapy.

4. Bake a lot of muffins

I didn’t price this one out, but I bake about a dozen banana-pecan muffins every few months and I’d bet a batch costs about $15 tops. Part of this is a response to my inability to predict my future interest in eating bananas at the time of purchase, and part of it is me wanting a simple problem to fix.

5. Sew an acclaimed, Victorian, genderswapped cosplay

Seriously, we made The Mary Sue‘s top 6 genderbent cosplays of New York Comic Con 2013. I owned most of the pieces of this, and what I bought for it started life as a $9 set of plaid sheets at ye olde Goodwill.

6. Learn enough Arduino to sew a sparkly dress and write a research poster on it

The dress not only sparkled, it sparkled to the tune of a morse code rendition of my Twitter handle. The materials for this cost a few sessions of therapy, but learning how to code it just took a few hours of plugging away. Concentrated, productive work can sometimes be the best calmer.

The Arduino Dress, a research poster on combining sewing and technology, by Jessica Dickinson Goodman

7. Take 3 friends out for lunch

D.C. can be a pretty expensive place to live and it is the rare and beautiful day when a meal out doesn’t cost two digits, but it’s still cheaper to go out for a nice lunch to talk with friends than pay for therapy.

None of this is to say that therapy isn’t worth what it costs. Therapy can be a great use of time and money, and unlike all of the above, provides a structure and a focus to the process of handling vicarious trauma. But I’ve had some of my best moments of mental settling either watching cars explode in a crowded theater, climbing the ladder to the trapeze platform, or revving my sewing machine to full-blast as I race down a recalcitrant in-seam. Self-care comes in a lot of forms, and not all of them require a couch.

Inspirational Quote:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”–Herman Melville

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