Vicarious trauma occurs when helping professionals working with survivors of traumatic life event absorbs and integrates disturbing aspects of the traumatic events told to them into their own functions. The repeated exposure to traumatic material results in vicarious trauma for the helper.
Vicarious trauma is sometimes referred to as “secondary traumatization, secondary stress disorder or insidious trauma”. It is not the same as “burnout”. Vicarious trauma results in a shift in the way helpers see themselves, the world and what matters most to them.
Symptoms of vicarious trauma can show up in the workplace and in your personal life. The impact is felt to your physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing. Some of those symptoms can include:
• Frequent job changes
• Conflict with co-workers
• Loss of interest or caring
• Dissatisfaction with work
• Detachment or over involved
• Change in you world view, spirituality , identity
• Lack of flexibility
• Sleep problems
• Appetite changes
• Negative coping habits, eg. Smoking, drinking, drugs
• Trouble concentrating
• Survivor guilt
• Sadness or depression
• Mistrust of others
• Change in parenting style (overprotective)
If you are a helper to those who have experienced trauma first hand, it is important to:
Take care of yourself. It is important to get enough rest, eat balanced and healthy meals and maintain a regular physical exercise routine.
Take time for yourself. Resist the urge to work through the day without a break. Your mind and spirit need this respite. It is also critical that we take time outside of work to engage in enjoyable and restorative activities. Some popular self-care activities include: weekend getaways, yoga or meditation, attending religious or spiritual services, massage or other spa treatments, cooking, spending time with friends, going to sporting events, visiting museums, going to the movies, painting or drawing, sculpting, writing, swimming and hiking.
Separate yourself. Remember to tell yourself, “This is not my pain. I am just holding it for a little while.”
Limit yourself. Make sure you are maintaining proper boundaries not only with the people you serve, but also within your workplace. Try to vary the type of work you are doing, share the load with your colleagues, set realistic goals.
Get professional help. Many times, vicarious trauma takes such a toll on our lives that we need to seek professional help. Remember that you deserve this.
Be honest with yourself. Check in with yourself frequently to make sure you are still satisfied in your current job. Make small adjustments in your routine, your expectations and change the things that are within your control.
Empower yourself. Attend professional trainings regularly in order to keep your skills and knowledge as sharp and fresh as possible.