Interviews and trauma

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We've been talking with veterans and advocates who point out that interviewing veterans with PTSD and other people with trauma can be a unique situation. A traumatized person may talk about emotionally painful things voluntarily. But for some, it can unleash intense feelings, which the traumatized person then has to figure out how to cope with.

A few tips we learned:

Be clear about your role. You're not a counselor. Let them know what to expect from you as a journalist, what that involves (one interview, phone contact, etc.).

Be (even more) diligent about letting your interviewee know where and when their interview/image may appear at the time of the interview. E.g. "I wanted you to know that this interview may be on our blog tomorrow." Don't let someone who is opening up to you be blindsided.

When possible, break the interview up into pieces. If a veteran shares all of their traumatizing war experiences at once, it can be too much for them even if they don't realize it at the time. Ask them if they want to take a break, stop for the day, continue later, etc.

Consider having mental health resources on hand. This can be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), community mental health professionals and local hospitals. You can acknowledge that you've talked about some hard topics during the interview and that might be difficult to process for them. You shouldn't try to be a counselor, but you can ask if they know what they will do if they have intense emotions to deal with (Do they have a counselor they are in treatment with?).

As journalists, it's important that we find a balance between getting a good interview and thinking about the mental health of our subjects.

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