How to Spot Vicarious Trauma


Being in the business of taking care of others is exhausting–there is no doubt about that, but sometimes that feeling of “exhaustion” is so much more. Victim advocates, counselors, and social justice advocates go through countless trainings on vicarious trauma (AKA “compassion fatigue”) and how to spot its symptoms. Here’s a refresher and a cheat sheet for anyone feeling like they might need a break:

What is vicarious trauma?

According to the American Counseling Association:

Vicarious trauma is the emotional residue of exposure that counselors have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured.

Signs of  vicarious trauma.

According to Adults Surviving Child Abuse, signs of vicarious trauma can include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Work-related nightmares
  • Difficulties making decisions
  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced motivation for your work
  • Loss of sense of control over your work and your life
  • Lowered self esteem, lowered sense of competence in your work
  • Difficulties trusting others
  • Lessened interest in spending time alone
  • Less time spent reflecting on your experiences

How to treat vicarious trauma.

If you think that you might be suffering from vicarious trauma you are not alone. You are doing good work, and you deserve help. The Wendt Center for Loss & Healing provides some tips summarized below:

  • Monitor yourself. In order to stave off vicarious trauma, it is important to keep in touch with your mental and emotional well-being.
  • Take care of your physical health. Eat well, get adequate sleep, and exercise.
  • Take a break. In fact, take a few. You deserve to go to lunch during the day, take a vacation, and ignore phone calls.
  • Separate yourself.  Remember to tell yourself, “This is not my pain. I am just holding it for a little while.”
  • Seek professional help. Sometimes all of the self-care in the world isn’t enough. Reach out to a professional for help managing your vicarious trauma.

I can’t say it enough: you are doing good work. You deserve health, happiness, and healing. If you think you might be suffering from vicarious trauma find the help you need, because this world isn’t any good without you in it.




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