Advice for Advocates

A farmer was using a dull, rusted axe to cut a huge oak tree on his property. His neighbor was passing by and saw that the farmer was making no progress at all.

"At this rate," the neighbor thought to himself, "it will take him years to chop that gigantic tree down." So he said to his friend, "Why don't you sharpen your axe?"

The farmer replied, breathless: "I can't (chop)... take the time (chop)... must cut down (chop)... this tree (chop)... by tomorrow."

- Based on a Sufi Teaching Tale

Like the farmer chopping down the tree, victim service providers can get caught up in the work of helping others. However, we can lose sight of our own needs because of all the trauma we see around us. We say, "What are my problems/stress/exhaustion in comparison to what this person is dealing with?!" This single-minded focus is also quite seductive because others working with victims may support these "selfless" and "self-sacrificing" acts as dedication and empathy. However, as we stop taking care of ourselves, we wear down the major tool of our work with victims and compromise our abilities and oath to those who are most important in our lives - our families and friends. Like the farmer chopping the oak with a dull axe -- there is activity but how useful is it? The bottom-line is that if we are trying to help clients build skills then we need to take care of ourselves and act as models of self-care.

- Excerpted from Hill, J.K. (2004). "Working With Victims of Crime: Applying Research to Clinical Practice"

In order to maintain our healthy selves, consider the following as guides:

Balance: Recognizing that each of us has limited resources that must be shared between our personal, professional and community lives.

Boundaries: Knowing where you end and other people begin. Being able to say 'no' when it is appropriate, leaving the victim or case at the door when arriving at home, and giving of yourself to family, children and friends in an equitable manner as what you give to victims and their families.

Belief: In yourself. Satisfaction in knowing that what you do is important, valuable and worthy. Knowing at the end of the day you've assisted someone on their path. Looking in the mirror each morning and knowing you have a gift to share. Realizing that there are colleagues who are available to sustain and lift you when needed.

Send your comments and stress relief tips to us at This article is submitted by Dr. Jennie Barr, Mental Health and Program Specialist for the Crime Victim Services Division.