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Reactions to Current Events: The Witness to Witness Perspective


Clinicians Standing together

While we are all familiar with the terms “victim” and “perpetrator,” far fewer of us use the term “witness” to apply to all the myriad situations in which that term is most apt. Far and away, the majority of acts of violence and violation – any disturbing interaction or event – is experienced by people in the witness position. In recent years, health care providers have been witnesses to unprecedented outbursts of rage in their workplaces: family members who are angry that they cannot say goodbye to loved ones as they die in isolation; community members who disagree with public health efforts like vaccination campaigns; frustrated patients who encounter longer wait times because of understaffing. Outside of the workplace, we are all witnesses to violence, from the violent murders of George Floyd and many others at the hands of police, to the heartbreaking mass shootings in Uvalde and elsewhere, occurring almost daily. These events can be viewed through a witnessing lens.

W2W witness position model
Figure 1. Witness Positions

The witnessing model combines bystander theory and trauma theory, asserting that there is not just one witness position but rather four. The four witness positions are created by two dimensions: aware or not aware and empowered or disempowered. (See Figure 1). Our positions vary depending on the situations we witness. Sometimes we can cope with what we witness and sometimes we are overwhelmed. Migrant Clinicians Network’s Witness to Witness is dedicated to equipping clinicians and advocates with insight and tools to help them move to Position One – empowered and aware.

You can visit Witness to Witness’s webpage to access numerous resources, including the following resources specifically written in response to recent violence.


Streamline Summer 2022 - cover

Read this article in the Summer 2022 issue of Streamline here!

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