As the earthquake in Nepal has once again highlighted, reporting on traumatic events is no easy task.

Last weekend at a picturesque hotel in the quiet of the Dorset countryside far from events unfolding in Kathmandu, I attended an annual 'retreat' for journalists whose stock in trade is covering violence, conflict, human rights and tragedy.

From across Europe war reporters, foreign correspondents and other news professionals along with mental health experts and educators came together under the auspices of the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, a project run by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

Many of those attending were colleagues I have come to know over the years after we have been thrown together in far off trouble spots wracked by war and the impact of natural disasters.

Almost all of these colleagues have witnessed more than their share of the horrors that befall individuals, families or communities.

As one put it to me disquietingly over dinner one night; "I've lost count of the corpses I've seen over the years".

What was remarkable about this gathering was the candour, sensitivity and concern with which the many issues touched on were explored and discussed.

In all it was a far cry from the image of journalists and news gatherers as the uncaring voyeuristic vultures frequently depicted in fictional representations or occupying the perceptions of many outside the industry. Along with emergency professionals, journalists are often "first responders" when an earthquake, terrorist attack, conflict or accident devastates a community.

In coming together we were able to get a better understanding of what traumatic stress does to those victims and casualties we so often encounter as reporters.

We learned how such stress eats into people's lives incapacitating and often mentally paralysing them.

In response we were to hear from therapists and counsellors on how as journalists we can through considered interviewing techniques and ethical practice avoid further distress to those already under enormous emotional and psychological pressure. Indeed far from being an intrusion, such journalistic interaction can in fact provide an opportunity for recovery in those we meet.

Just as those attending the weekend retreat were asked to consider those we report on, so too were we given the opportunity to reflect on the potential toll years of exposure to violence and suffering can take on ourselves.

How interesting it would have been for those lay people who invariably see journalists as desensitised automatons to have witnessed the emotional turmoil on display when colleagues gave accounts of past experiences.

Among those who spoke were correspondents who have covered foreign wars and those who reported from their own conflict wracked countries. There were others who had witnessed death row executions in the United States and some who themselves had received death threats in their line of work overseas. Some had spent years investigating child traffickers or documenting the plight of migrants.

That many such colleagues themselves run the risk of falling victim to traumatic stress goes without saying. This though is no deterrent, for bearing witness to the trauma that afflicts the word is what they do.