If you are a helping professional, it’s important to be aware of vicarious trauma and how to protect yourself from it. Vicarious trauma is the term used to describe the negative effects that can occur in professionals who work with people who have been traumatized. It can be very damaging to your mental health if you’re not careful. In this blog post, we will discuss some tips for protecting yourself from vicarious trauma. In general, vicarious and secondary trauma is seen as similar.
Vicarious Trauma is seen as
A direct consequence of working with people who have been traumatized. The theory is that by virtue of being a helping professional, you are vicariously exposed to the trauma your clients have experienced. This exposure can lead to negative changes in your own thinking, feeling, and behavior.
Secondary Trauma is similar to vicarious trauma
In that, it is also seen as a direct consequence of working with traumatized clients. However, STS is conceptualized as a reaction to indirect exposure to trauma. This means that you are not directly exposed to the trauma, but you are indirectly exposed to it through your work with clients who have experienced trauma.
As therapists, we are impacted by the stories of our clients.
We hear about their experiences of abuse, neglect, trauma, and pain. These stories can stay with us long after our clients have left our office. We may find ourselves thinking about them when we are trying to fall asleep at night or when we are in the shower in the morning. They may come up during conversations with friends or family members. Therapists bear witness to the traumatic stories of clients and are affected by them. The nature of therapy work requires empathy; it’s honorable, brave, and important work intended to make the world a better place. But it’s not easy, and we need to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do this important work.
There are small ways to lessen the impact of trauma, by mindfully checking in with yourself and using positive coping methods.
It’s also important to have a solid support system in place. This could be friends, family, or a therapist that you see for your own self-care. Talking about your vicarious trauma with someone who understands and can offer support is crucial. If you find that you are struggling to cope with vicarious trauma, please reach out.
How Might Someone try to cope with Secondary Trauma?
Numbing is a common way individuals who are experiencing vicarious trauma may cope. This includes behaviors such as excessive drinking, drug use, sex, work, or anything else that allows them to avoid or numb the pain. Avoidance is another way individuals might cope. This can look like avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of the trauma. It can also look like avoiding talking about the vicarious trauma altogether. Think now, As a therapist, how much are you “numbing?”.
Exercise Can Be A Way Of Healing and Forcing Yourself Not to Avoid or Numb
Laura Regan, owner and founder of the trauma therapist directory, recommends spending 12-60 minutes each day, for six days a week, working out to the degree of breaking a sweat. We owe it to the people we help to take care of our Vicarious Trauma, and regular exercise is one way to do that. Having a regular vicarious trauma self-care practice is crucial for all therapists. Just as we encourage our clients to have self-care practices, we need to model this behavior and make it a priority in our own lives. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to show up for our clients and do the important work that helps heal.
Recognize the Impact of Isolation in Therapy Work
Isolation is common in trauma work because we feel like “nobody understands.” It’s important to remember that vicarious trauma is real and that you are not alone. There are plenty of other therapists who understand what you are going through. Find a therapist or join a group of like-minded individuals so that you can share your vicarious trauma experiences and begin to heal together. You Are Not Alone. Make sure if you find yourself struggling, that you are getting your own therapist, consultation, and supervision as needed. Both personally and professionally.
The American Counseling Association lists several signs of Vicarious Trauma, including:
- Having difficulty talking about feelings
- Feeling diminished joy
- Feeling trapped by work
- Limited range of emotions
- Exaggerated startle reflex
- Trouble sleeping
- Conflict with other staff
- Trouble with intimacy
- Feeling withdrawn and isolated
- Impatience, apathy
- A change in worldview
What can you do to make a difference when dealing with secondary trauma?
- Practice mindfulness
- Exercise (12-60 min. several days each week)
- Cultivate a connection with yourself and others
- Enrich your life by doing things you love, apart from work
- Make meaning
Find a Trauma Therapist Near Me!
Working with a trauma therapist allows you to process your traumatic experiences in a safe space. You’ll be able to more clearly understand how your trauma has impacted different areas of your life. Then, you’ll be able to start healing. You don’t have to live under the weight of your experiences. If you’re considering therapy, you can find an experienced trauma therapist near you by clicking here.
Check Out My Trauma Podcast or Therapy Chat Podcast for More Support
When you get scheduled with a therapist, it may take a week or so before you have your first appointment. If you are waiting to see a trauma therapist and want some additional resources in the meantime, you may want to check out our Trauma Chat podcast or our Therapy Chat podcast. In our podcasts, we discuss topics such as attachment style, childhood trauma, and trauma responses. Podcasts and blogs aren’t a replacement for counseling, but they can be a great source of information while you’re looking for a therapist. It can also be helpful to learn more about trauma and PTSD treatment while you’re in counseling. Remember, healing is possible. You can overcome your trauma.