TW: Sensitive Content
We may be therapists, social workers, doctors, paramedics, police officers dealing with trauma response daily. Or maybe we are the family/friend/partner of someone who just went through a traumatic experience. Vicarious Trauma tends to stem from the workplace. Seeing and listening to their hurt can take a real toll. Different than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is an emotional, psychological, and spiritual effect of caring for a traumatized person. This is experience has been labeled by psychologists as Vicarious Trauma.
What is Vicarious Trauma in the Workplace?
First identified in the 80’s, Vicarious Trauma was defined as the “cost of caring”. Vicarious Trauma is a secondhand traumatization and stressor that can manifest both mentally and physically. Some describe Vicarious Trauma as straining empathy and compassionate burnout, which can lead to fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and more. Vicarious Trauma is highly reported in the workplace. Mainly in first responders, community workers, and mental health professionals; Especially those who work in communities with high rates of trauma and crime.
Between 40% and 85% of helping professionals develop vicarious trauma from their workplace, according to expert Francoise Mathieu. Vicarious Trauma may also affect individuals after a traumatic event makes news stories or goes viral on social media. This could look like a teacher having sleepless nights after a school shooting occurred. It is common that teachers dread going to work after a school shooting, due to spiking anxiety and fear for themselves and for their students.
Being a professional trauma responder or caregiver exposes you to so much emotional and psychological stressors. There truly is a cost for caring in these workplaces. There are extremely high rates of burnout, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and fear reported among these professions. More severely, suicidal ideation. So, it is important to address Vicarious Trauma in the workplace to prevent taking your work home with you.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Vicarious Trauma in the Workplace:
1. Self Care
If you are working in a profession that deals with trauma response, or are the loved one supporting a traumatized person, you could experience Vicarious Trauma. Taking care of others in need may be your priority, but never forget to take care of yourself too. Implementing a self-care routine will be effective in reducing symptoms of Vicarious Trauma. Doing whatever makes you feel cared for is important. Whether that is lighting candles for your bath and putting on a face mask, or watching your comfort show with your favorite take out meal. Make the time to tend to yourself. Give yourself the care you need to process any Vicarious Trauma you are experiencing.
2. Finding moments of joy and ceremony before/after work
If you are dealing with stress and fear in your workplace, find moments of joy and ceremony before, during, or after work. This could look like riding your bike to the office everyday if that is something you enjoy. Or, if you love fashion, try styling your business attire to help you feel your best. You could stop at your favorite coffee shop on the way to the office or walk through the neighboring park on your lunch break. On your own or with your favorite co-worker! Sometimes, it is the little things that can help make a big difference.
3. Speaking to a therapist
Speaking to a mental health professional will be beneficial if you are dealing with Vicarious Trauma in your workplace. As explained, Vicarious Trauma can cause anxiety, fear, trouble sleeping, mental/physical fatigue, and burnout. All of which can be addressed with the help of a mental health professional. Support can be one of the most important helping tools when addressing trauma. Healed and Educated offers both group and individual therapy, where your therapist will evaluate your case and collaborate with you to design a treatment plan.
Fact sheet: Vicarious trauma definition of vicarious trauma … – CDCR. (n.d.-a). https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/bph/wp-content/uploads/sites/161/2021/10/Trauma-Fact-Sheets-October-2021.pdf
Olgaphoenix.com. (n.d.). https://olgaphoenix.com/blog/painful-truths-about-vicarious-trauma-statistics-from-the-field/
Roberts, C., Darroch, F., Giles, A., & van Bruggen, R. (2022, December). You’re carrying so many people’s stories: Vicarious trauma among fly-in fly-out mental health service providers in Canada. International journal of qualitative studies on health and well-being. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8925925/
Vicarious trauma and its influence on self-efficacy. (n.d.-b). https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/article_2721c024f16116603abcacff0000bee5e7.pdf?sfvrsn=6
1. For Employees
Mental Health resources for employees (Mental Health America): https://www.mhanational.org/workplace/mental-health-for-employees
2. For Employers
Mental Health resources for employers (Mental Health America): https://www.mhanational.org/workplace/mental-health-for-employers
The Author: Amanda Morgan
This article was written by Amanda Morgan. Any questions concerning the article should be emailed to email@example.com
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