Handling traumatic issues during a videoconference

Often when discussing human rights issues, some very traumatic issues come up. These often directly involve the speaker or members of the audience.  Your first reaction might be to reach out to the person through touch, perhaps even a hug. However, videoconferences don't allow that.  How should facilitators and speakers deal with such traumatic moments?  Are there ways to prepare for them beforehand?

Comments (13)

  • William Paul Simmons

    William Paul Simmons

    January 10, 2016 at 19:18 | #

    First thought: "Too often human rights classes leave students depressed as they read about unimaginable tragedies and seemingly intractable conflicts. Students want to read about success stories, know that people not much older than them are making a difference, and learn how they can get involved."


  • Samantha Renee Franks

    Samantha Renee Franks

    May 04, 2016 at 03:19 | #

    While of course as a student I enjoy hearing about endless happiness and success stories, I think it's also important as students taking human rights classes to not turn a blind eye or be closed off to the marginalized and suffering people in the world. I think our class is a really good example of having a proper balance between both trauma and joy. While at first we may focus on horrid issues and human rights violations, in the end we look more into stories of triumph and survival-I think it helps to always end units or especially heavy subjects with topics on finding joy and happiness. I think that by going over speakers and doing an overview of their experiences can help to prepare students for material that may be really depressing, and I also think when students have more of a background on human rights issues and speakers that they are able to be better prepared and ask good questions and have meaningful discussion. Human rights issues at times do take you out of our comfort zones, but learning about these violations is so imperative to understand and help others.


  • Amanda Tran

    Amanda Tran

    May 06, 2016 at 06:10 | #

    In any discussion concerning human rights issues, there will always be the good and the bad. We all want to hear about the success stories and hearing people overcome the adversities they face, but there will also be tragic stories filled with trauma. Through videoconferences, the audience should be prepared by reading about the speaker and his or her experiences. Understanding the background information will help the audience deal with the trauma, and it gives them a good idea of what to expect from the speaker. Also, conducting additional research about the historical context and events will help the audience cope with some of the depressing and upsetting experiences they may hear from the speaker. It is important to learn from these issues and to hear the people's voices. These testimonies and stories will include the horrific ordeals and the trauma the speakers face, but they should also include any hope and success as well to end the conference. Most events, even ones with trauma and suffering, often have some glimmer of hope or joy. No matter how sad or joyful the videoconference can be, the main point of the conference is to learn more about the human rights issue, to get involved, and to create change.


  • Maria  S Smith

    Maria S Smith

    May 07, 2016 at 02:06 | #

    Learning to compartmentalize and deal with traumatic issues and stories during videoconferences is a major component when taking this course. Many of the issues covered are heinous and disturbing at best. Managing my emotions when learning different modules and during testimonies was the most challenging part of this course but I believe the course component of writing self-reflections allowed me to best express my opinions and grief. I feel this was the absolute best outlet for handling such traumatic events. More than once, after hearing various testimonies, I would feel helpless, yet simultaneously encouraged to want to make a difference all at the same time. I think while this course shows students the ugly truths about the world we live in, it also empowers students to want to be better individuals, to be compassionate, and to actually hear the voices of others. It teaches us to value and appreciate our blessings and to be cognizant of our privileges but more importantly, to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed. It taught me that social issues and problems are not unique to America, there are other parts of the world that endure far more. I believe a part of growing up into responsible individuals is realizing that each of us have a role and are capable of impacting change.


  • Christina Harris

    Christina Harris

    May 07, 2016 at 19:26 | #

    Whenever videoconferencing someone who has gone through a traumatic experience, you always run the risk of the person you are videoconferencing having a difficult time reliving and retelling of that traumatic experience. I think that emailing the questions to the person before videoconferencing them can lessen that risk a little bit because the person who has gone through the traumatic experience would have an idea of what they are getting themselves into before they actually videoconference with the class. I think that the person who is going to be facilitating the conversation needs to have some sort of training to handle these issues, or should be able to guide the person who has been through the traumatic experience through some type of breathing exercise if they are experience something severe like a panic attack. But I think that everyone in the class as well as the facilitator should be prepared in knowing what to do if this situation occurs.


  • Brianna B Uhall

    Brianna B Uhall

    May 07, 2016 at 21:27 | #

    I think that when discussing human rights it is important for students to hear the more traumatic stories that people are willing to share, although we prefer to hear happier stories these stories are just as important. This helps students to further see and understand what a person feels/felt in these sorts of situations, and gives a way for students to see how they cope with the PTSD throughout their lives. I think one of the most important things to be done before listening to a speaker is to have read their background and relative pieces that they wrote, that way we know more about them and have a pretty good idea of what to expect. This way we are able to learn from their stories and not just focus on the traumatic and horrible aspects of them. Also, most of these speakers’ stories are not all about the trauma and ordeals that they faced, they also include their overcoming the escape from the event as well as how they handle it later on in their lives. These bits and pieces about their lives really help us to see, and hear, how they handle these events and how they found hope and life even after having been through all of that pay. Overall, the purpose of these talks is for the audience to learn something from the speaker’s experience, and if students come prepared and are ready to listen then there are endless amounts of information that can be obtained from the talk.


  • Eve Beauchemin

    Eve Beauchemin

    May 08, 2016 at 00:45 | #

    As far as preparing beforehand for traumatic issues that may come up during a videoconference, I think the best solution would be to come to the videoconference armed with the knowledge of the events that the speaker has gone through. This way, you already know about the nature of the trauma, and have had time to process it. Any new information which the speaker reveals will not be as startling as if you had not known anything about the traumatic event. Additionally, I think it is important to recognize and respect when a speaker has boundaries about what they will talk about or in how much detail they will talk about something. It is crucial to listen to the voices of the marginalized and oppressed, and if we try to force questions onto them for our own benefit (or curiosity), then we are simply overriding their voices by guiding the conversation in the direction we choose. Furthermore, I think that we should not interfere too much if a speaker begins to break down during the conversation. We could gently ask if they would like to take a break for a minute, or let them work through their breakdown in the way they have been taught from therapy, but I do not think we should begin to frantically apologize for triggering the breakdown, as I feel like this would just make them feel self-conscious and more like a victim than a survivor. I believe we should always ask what we can do to best help them, and do whatever it is they ask, instead of automatically jumping to fix the issue with our own ideas of what could help.


  • Ciara Ann Daniels

    Ciara Ann Daniels

    May 08, 2016 at 04:27 | #

    The question of dealing with traumatic moments is such a difficult one to answer. If the speaker is clearly struggling to talk about something or having a traumatic moment, I think it is important to acknowledge it verbally. Speaking out and agreeing to a video conference in the first place takes courage and strength, so we, as the audience, need to openly and verbally acknowledge and support that strength. We should let the speaker know that we appreciate and admire their willingness to talk about their trauma.
    Open dialogue is the best approach to this kind of situation; even if you don’t know the speaker well, you must speak openly, too, to make the speaker more comfortable if possible.

    Coming prepared beforehand can be helpful, too, when dealing with traumatic videoconferences. Educating and informing yourself on the human rights issue and the speaker’s personal experience is so important. This way, you can know a little about what to expect. It is also so important to always create a safe space for the videoconference – make sure everyone will be respectful and polite towards each other and the speaker.


  • Christa Sonderer

    Christa Sonderer

    May 08, 2016 at 22:32 | #

    It is difficult to physically comfort people when they are separated by a screen, and when discussing human rights topics and trauma, it is very possible that someone may break down or experience a difficult emotional moment. It is definitely important to know the background of the person you are talking to so that you know what topics to steer clear of during the videoconference. However, this method is not fool-proof, and so you should be prepared to handle the case where a speaker experiences a difficult emotional moment. Everyone handles trauma differently and so reacts to people’s attempts at being empathetic differently. I would recommend being calm and speaking in a non-aggressive manner. It would probably be beneficial to give the speaker a break from questions or to ask if they would like to continue the videoconference at a later time. It is always important to be respectful to the speakers and to thank them for sharing their experiences with you.


  • Vijay Karam Singh

    Vijay Karam Singh

    May 09, 2016 at 00:04 | #

    Having people discuss their stories and experiences on whatever controversial topic we have is very tough for anyone to talk about. Many times these people face issues of PTSD or loss of a loved one because of how traumatic the issues have been. The best way to handle these intense episodes for people is to talk to them before the video conference so we can have them be more prepared for whatever they would like to talk about. This can be brought up as a disclaimer for them as well to let them how intense they want to talk about the subject matter. Just like in a research context, it is always important to have the consent of the patient before anything else can go further.


  • Ali Angelo

    Ali Angelo

    May 09, 2016 at 01:52 | #

    More often than not, these issues do stir up a bit of emotion. I do not believe there is necessarily a way to prepare ahead of time, aside from whoever is facilitating to say to the group "There may be emotional reactions, please act appropriately." I too would rather give a hug or some other physical communication, but with a video conference I think the best option is to just express a genuine apology verbally. Just like with the questions that you might ask, just spend a moment assessing the situation, and realize that there may be emotion dealing with these traumatic issues.


  • Tiffanie O

    Tiffanie O

    May 09, 2016 at 03:07 | #

    A facilitator that wants to talk about a traumatic moment, should speak about it only when they feel comfortable. If a facilitator does not feel comfortable talking about it, then they should not be pressured into talking about that traumatic event. Some ways to prepare for a traumatic story beforehand is to let the class become aware of the traumatic situation. Therefore, the students will be able to think about the question before asking it. This method can help to create a open minded approach towards asking questions.


  • Betsaida Arguelles Nebuay

    Betsaida Arguelles Nebuay

    May 09, 2016 at 05:30 | #

    Videoconferences are great tools for a class to learn through influential speakers/experts. Often times though there is a lack of emotional response and it is hard to show emotions that are otherwise shown through physical actions. I think that having the students write thank you e-mails or reflections for the speaker is helpful. The students cannot hug them, but can say they wish they could using words.


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