Talking about the past sometimes brings painful events to the surface that may trigger feelings of sadness or anger within the narrator or within us. As interviewers, we need to recognize when a narrator is uncomfortable or uneasy sharing a memory of a violent past. At the same time, we also need to protect ourselves from the heaviness that accompanies listening to difficult (tragic, violent) accounts of the past. 

What is our responsibility towards the narrator and ourselves? What can we do when the narrator experiences negative feelings while talking about violent events? And how do we deal with the possible impact of these feelings on ourselves as interviewers? 


  • Understand how to take care of a narrator and oneself when talking about violent events

Time and Materials

90 mins 

  • A4 papers
  • Markers (different colors)
  • Flip chart papers
  • Colors


Group Work (30 minutes):

Let’s start with thinking about the relationship between the narrator and the interviewer, the emotions that might come up and how we might be able to deal with them.

We divide participants into 4 groups. 2 groups focus on the narrator and 2 groups focus on the interviewer. We write these questions on the flipchart and ask them to discuss:

For narrator:

  • What emotions might come up when remembering and talking about a violent past?
  • How would you like to be approached or talked to when talking about something painful?

For interviewer: 

  • What emotions might come up when listening to someone talk about a violent past? 
  • What support mechanisms would you need as an interviewer doing Oral History?

We distribute Handout 21: Do no Harm in Oral History to support the groups in their discussion. We ask each group to prepare flipchart presentations. We encourage them to use color, draw and/or write. 


Group Presentations (30 minutes): 

We join 2 groups together and ask them to present to each other, in a way that a group that focused on the narrator joins a group that focused on the interviewer and they exchange presentations. 

We then ask the joint groups to each prioritize 3 important things that can help to take care of the narrator and 3 important things to support taking care of ourselves as interviewers. We ask them to write each one on a separate A4 paper using a marker. 


Plenary Discussion (20 minutes):

We collect the groups priorities and put them in a table as below:

      Taking care of myself as an interviewer      Taking care of the narrator



We go through the ideas and clarify any questions. After that, we conclude with a discussion about our responsibility towards the narrator and ourselves especially when doing an Oral History project that features violent and traumatic events. 

Guiding Questions:

  • What is our responsibility towards the narrator?
  • What is our responsibility towards ourselves as interviewers?  


Individual Reflection (10 minutes):

We ask participants to individually think of at least 2 actions they will take with them implementing an Oral History project. If time allows, we can invite a few participants to share their thoughts with the rest.

Notes and Tips for the Facilitator

  • It is important to clarify the difference between a therapist and an Oral History interviewer (see handout).
  • The group may have to talk more about trauma, its impact, and how to deal with triggers, within the framework of the responsibility towards the narrator. It is important here to assess the situation ahead of time depending on the topic that will be addressed with the narrator and to identify the session’s attendees. 
  • Feel comfortable to share the fact that dealing with trauma requires specialized interventions sometimes, and that you might not know all the answers. Encourage participants to read resources about it or consult with professionals around them that might support them.
  • Maybe it is during this session that participants are informed about the importance of having a support group, linking to what was discussed in the session, while working on collecting stories from people, or consulting with a psychologist for a debrief when interviews are over, because the impact of the stories might be exhausting for the person collecting them and/or helping the traumatized person address them.
  • If you as a facilitator are dealing with participants who have themselves faced trauma, seek support from professionally trained therapists.
  • The session draws on concepts of violence and trauma, there are further readings, if you want to delve deeper. 
  • The session relates to the session Pre-interview Meeting.

Sources and Further Reading

Cramer, Jennifer A.  “First, Do No Harm”: Tread Carefully Where Oral History, Trauma, and Current Crises Intersect, The Oral History Review, 47:2 (2020), pp. 203-213, 

Strong, Liz H. “Shifting Focus: Interviewers Share Advice on Protecting Themselves from Harm,” The Oral History Review, 48:2 (2021), pp. 196-215, 

Theidon, Kimberly. “How Was Your Trip?’ Self-Care For Researchers Working And Writing On Violence,” Social Science Research Council, (April 2014),  

Clark, Mary Marshall. “Oral History of Disasters and Pandemics,” Oral History Master’s Program Workshop Series, Columbia University Incite, (April 16, 2020), 

Leitch, Laurie. “Information Gathering after Trauma: Considerations for Human Rights Work, Peacebuilding, and Interviewing,” Africa Peace and Conflict Journal, 3:1 (June 2010) pp. 80-87.

“MHPSS Guidelines for Working with the Families of the Missing in Lebanon,”  Act for the Disappeared (November 2021),