Vicarious Trauma: 5 Signs and Strategies to Cope

Vicarious trauma 1is defined as secondary trauma experienced when a person is indirectly exposed to a traumatic event either through a first-hand account or through the narrative of the event. Social workers or those in helping professions are said to be at the highest risk. It is extremely devastating not only for the help providers but also for the people who come to them.

Eager to find out more about the agonizing effects of vicarious trauma? Please continue reading the article then, as we share with you all the symptoms and the possible effective measures.

Vicarious Trauma

1. Everything You Need to Know About Vicarious Trauma

1.1 Understanding Vicarious Trauma

People who are in helping professions like therapists, counselors, rescue workers, doctors, police officers, lawyers, or even people who are in contact with a person who has undergone a traumatic experience are at the highest risk of suffering from vicarious trauma.

These people hear stories of trauma throughout their course of work. These traumatic experiences can overwhelm them. It leads them to experience the same feelings that the trauma survivors face during their time.

Vicarious trauma leads to a shift in the view of the helpers. It can also alter their beliefs and values. Repeated exposure to traumatic incidents or their narrative can also lead to irreparable damage.

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1.2 Symptoms of Vicarious Trauma

Curiously enough, it has been observed that each individual responds to vicarious trauma in different ways, and some get more affected than others. However, we have prepared a list that will help in classifying the symptoms into different categories.

1. Emotional symptoms

  • Lasting feelings of sadness, grief, and anxiety
  • Suffering from mood swings and becoming angry or irritable without a reason
  • A feeling of unsafety lingers on the affected

2. Behavioural symptoms

  • isolating oneself from friends, family, and loved ones
  • alcohol or substance abuse
  • altering eating habits and difficulty sleeping
  • involving risky behaviors and increasing workload
  • failing to differentiate work life from personal times

3. Physiological symptoms

Vicarious trauma
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4. Cognitive symptoms

  • cynicism and negativity
  • Difficulty in concentrating, recalling, or making decisions in your life

5. Spiritual symptoms

  • loss of hope
  • decreases the sense of purpose
  • feeling a sense of disconnect from others

It has also been observed that people suffering from vicarious trauma can also suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.2

The symptoms of being affected by intrusive thoughts regarding the traumatic experience can also have increased physiological reactivity and arousal.

1.3 How to Recover from Vicarious Trauma?

To recover oneself from vicarious trauma, there are certain measures that the affected should consider, some of which we have mentioned below:

1. Reaching out to someone and sharing your feelings can be one way to lighten the weight of the trauma. It can be to anyone whom you trust and are comfortable sharing with.

2. Figure out a way how to escape from the trauma. You can take some days off from your work and probably plan a vacation to take your mind off things.

3. After coming back from work every day, take your time for yourself as well. Get yourself engaged in relaxing chores. Read a book, listen to relaxing music, or even immerse yourself in aromatherapy sessions3 if you like.

Vicarious trauma
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4. Have some time when you do not have to reach your daily goals. Just try to enjoy your day without any stress and deadlines.

5. Engage yourself in activities that can make you laugh. Play with kids or with pets. You can also get involved in creative activities or watch your favorite comedy film.

Well, it is quite difficult to follow the above measures when you face traumatic experiences every day and suffer from intense vicarious trauma and burnout. However, it would be best not to underestimate the happiness that comes from doing the simple things in your life.

If the remedies mentioned above fail to produce your desired result, you should consider asking for help from other mental health support groups.

1.4 Preventive Measures That Help in Preventing Vicarious Trauma

As you have quite figured out, feeling pain for the survivors of abuse and trauma is a natural response.

But we can always prevent the symptoms of vicarious trauma from escalating. Reduce the risk by not allowing it to happen in the first place.

Some measures that can help are:

  • Talk to the team and the management around you for regular debriefing and support.
  • Engage yourself in reflective practices. Start writing in a journal or talk to someone you can trust about your daily encounters. You will be surprised at the positive impact it can have on you.
  • Make sure that the workplace is optimum for physical and mental well-being.
  • Be supportive and show compassion to yourself and extend your helping hands to your coworkers.

2. Conclusion

We would like to conclude by saying that all the people suffering from vicarious trauma might initially feel guilty and may feel that they are not doing enough justice to their profession.

But it is important to remember that having such behavior is natural. Having such emotional responses is a part of human nature. There is nothing to worry about if you feel compassion fatigue and burnout at the end of your day.

We understand that people recovering from vicarious trauma are inclined not to show their emotional side to their clients. But did you know that remaining in contact with emotions and self-compassion will make you more resilient and sustain your work?

Hopefully, the article was able to throw some light on vicarious trauma. The focus of this article is solely to prevent traumatic experiences from altering and deteriorating the mental health conditions of the affected.

People often tend to ignore the condition. However, this situation grows upon the affected person. It alters their mindset and affects the people around them.

Vicarious trauma
Image From: Freepik

If you are someone who identifies himself/herself with the above-mentioned symptoms, ask for help and assistance immediately.

And for someone reading the article who knows someone who is going through similar conditions, breach the conversation carefully. With proper care and treatment, the condition would soon be healed.

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  1. Branson, Dana C. “Vicarious trauma, themes in research, and terminology: A review of literature.” Traumatology 25.1 (2019): 2. ↩︎
  2. McFarlane, Alexander C., et al. “Physical symptoms in post-traumatic stress disorder.” Journal of psychosomatic research 38.7 (1994): 715-726. ↩︎
  3. Diego, Miguel A., et al. “Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations.” International journal of neuroscience 96.3-4 (1998): 217-224. ↩︎

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