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Journalists need a psychological first aid kit says broadcaster Sian Williams at Westminster Talks

27 March 2015

The University of Westminster’s fourth alumni lecture as part of the Westminster Talks Lecture Series 2014/15 took place on Wednesday 11 March, featuring former Psychology MSc student, successful broadcast journalist and former BBC Breakfast presenter Sian Williams.

In the lecture entitled ‘Journalism and Post-Traumatic Stress – How Do We Protect Our Reporters’, Sian discussed the ways in which we might protect journalists and reporters from the trauma they encounter on the job, and why doing so is extremely important.

“Most journalists don’t get post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) – it is a minority. But are we protecting those who work to bring us the truth? Or try to?” asked Sian.

With almost 30 years of experience in broadcast journalism, as well as being a trained Trauma Assessor helping journalists who have returned from traumatic news events, Sian provided the audience of Westminster alumni, students, academics and external guests with an insight into her own experiences reporting from war zones and disaster areas.

Her own experience, which has involved covering events such as the Hillsborough Disaster, the aftermath of the devastating 2004 South Asia Tsunami and the Paddington rail crash, has contributed towards her own understanding of how being surrounded by death, grief and conflict can have haunting consequences for the journalists involved.

“Often we don’t think about our psychological health, we don’t have a psychological first aid kit. And we don’t think we need one, but we do” expressed Sian.

In the talk, Sian suggested one of the ways in which journalists can be more equipped against suffering from trauma would be if they were better prepared before and after assignments. Her own role as Trauma Assessor at the BBC is to help spot symptoms of trouble when people return from war zones or disaster areas. However she expressed a worry concerning freelance journalists and reporters who in many cases do not have this service, and who may be more open to exploitation.

Sian explained that her reason to take up an MSc in Psychology was so that she could better understand the effects of trauma on journalists.

In the highly engaging and thought provoking lecture, as well as discussing the effects of PSTD on journalists, Sian explained that at a certain point of her career she began to question whether journalists were responsibly dealing with victims of grief.

“Being allowed into someone’s vulnerability is a huge challenge, a responsibility, and a gift. And we as reporters must acknowledge this” said Sian.

The event was part of the University’s Westminster Talks Lecture Series 2014/15, featuring talks by an outstanding array of Westminster alumni, Professors and Honorary Doctors and Friends of Westminster. The lectures underpin the university’s mission of excellence, creativity and innovation for the benefit of the wider society.

Upcoming public Westminster Talks Alumni Lectures will include Director of Brady Mallalieu Architects Angela Brady’s account of ‘The politics of Architecture - can we influence change?’

To register for free tickets and to discover the full Westminster Talks programme, visit the Westminster Talks Lecture Series 2014/15 page.

About the University of Westminster:

The University of Westminster boasts a vibrant learning environment attracting more than 20,000 students from over 150 nations and we continue to invest in our future with new developments, research projects and new ideas.

We offer highly attractive practice-based courses that are independently rated as excellent, many with international recognition. Our distinguished 180-year history has meant we lead the way in many areas of research, particularly politics, media, art and design, architecture and biomedical sciences, and our position in the city of London allows us to continue to build on our close connections with leading figures and organisations in these areas as well as in the worlds of business, information technology, politics and law.

Our commitment to educating graduates for the needs of professional life attracts high quality students from within the UK and around the globe.

Internationalisation, employability and sustainability are key elements in the University of Westminster’s vision for the future and we strive to ensure the very highest standards are met and maintained.

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