Secondary Traumatic Stress, also known as Vicarious Trauma, is a state of burnout often experienced by victim service or healthcare professionals when they take on their patients or clients trauma. It often leads to a state called Compassion Fatigue.
Secondary Trauma & the Need for Resiliency
Obviously, those who suffer serious crises and calamities, do not choose to become traumatized; do not select suffering. Yet, quite consciously, care-providers do choose to become involved. Your experience of trauma and suffering as a professional is not direct; you are not bloodied nor do you lose loved ones but instead you suffer an accretion of exposure to the suffering endured by your clients or patients. This second-hand exposure, multiplied case after case, day after day, has the likely effect of traumatizing professionals in ways that can be either obvious or subtle, and can, in turn, reduce your effectiveness, rob you of your enthusiasm, and shorten your tenure.
Treating emotionally traumatized patients/clients can make huge emotional demands on those who perform this work. Through their professional service, care-providers can suffer a special kind of trauma. These are dedicated people who perform some of the most emotionally difficult work that society desperately needs. But in doing this crucial, moral work, the personal consequences are often severe.
Many of these symptoms are similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and can be as damaging. Care providers incur harm across the spectrum of mental health impacts – on the emotional, cognitive, physical, relationship, and spiritual levels.
Symptoms of secondary trauma or vicarious trauma include such reactions as:
Mistrust of Others
Isolation from family or friends
Persistent Trauma Imagery
Frequent or Increased Illness
A Sense of Helplessness
The Cost to Care-Providers
The irony is that it is people of good heart who choose to go into these helping professions and then their good hearts are assaulted by the work they do. Many are at a painful crossroads: their professional service represents the most important, for some, the most spiritual work they could imagine doing, but they are feeling so diminished or broken by that work that they can't imagine going on any longer. These are not problems that overtake less competent workers. It is, paradoxically, those with the greatest capacity for feeling and expressing empathy who are most at risk for vicarious trauma.
The Cost to Healthcare Organizations
There are also significant personnel costs to healthcare organizations that fail to attend to the secondary trauma and compassion fatigue suffered by its staff. The cost of replacing personnel who depart prematurely is the obvious one; included with that are the costs of selecting, hiring and training new staff. The loss of seasoned staff means that any organization must function without its most experienced practitioners. Their departure can, in turn, have demoralizing effects on the care-providers who remain and reduce the quality of services available to the clients or patients.
We Can Help Cultivate Self-care Skills
Our program, the Secondary Trauma Resiliency Training, reflects an obvious truism: Care-providers must cultivate self-care skills that are meaningful and effective in order to not only survive but thrive in this work. It is our intention to create a space, safe and restorative enough, that you will be willing to honestly explore what you bring to your work, the secondary trauma your face, and how it is affecting your life. Self-care emerges from such serious examination.
In addition, we hope you will take away new tools to minimize the vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue you experience and new ideas to enrich the quality of your work. All your clients or patients will then receive the benefit of your having attended this training.