Helping Them, Hurting You

As mental health professionals, we are among the most susceptible populations to experience secondary trauma syndrome, among others (first responders and case workers). In a study examining the effects of vicarious trauma for counselors and psychologists working with sexual violence survivors, counselors with a higher percentage of survivors in their caseload reflected more disrupted beliefs, particularly regarding the goodness of others (Schauben & Frazier, 1995).

Many counselors now market themselves as trauma recovery professionals, drawing an even higher number of individuals with a trauma history–more narratives, more images, more graphic details.

The consequences can be as unique as they are horrific, ranging from symptoms that mirror PTSD to poor sleep or suspicion of others (Trippany, Kress & Wilcoxon, 2004). Counselors may engage in regular self-assessment and supervision to ensure that they have not become impaired. Counselors may begin to feel emotionally numb, feel discouraged about the future or notice increase startle response (Bride, 2004).

Helping professionals may be in the early stages of secondary traumatic stress but may be  able to decrease symptoms through individual or group psychotherapy, or increasing self-care. Preventative efforts may include psychoeducation, supervision, work-place self-care, exercise & good nutrition (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2011). Should the professional already be exhibiting behavioral (forgetfulness), physical (aches & pains/chronic illness), cognitive (low self-esteem), emotional (numbness) or social impairments (distrust, withdrawal), intervention strategies may include mindfulness training, caseload adjustment, or cognitive behavioral intervention. (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2011).

If you are unsure if you are exhibiting vicarious trauma features, please reach out for mental health assessment and support through our organization. Click here for more information about our process group, put in place to address Vicarious Trauma Prevention and Intervention. Together we can help you to empower yourself and get back to what you love.

Bride, B.E., Robinson, M.R., Yegidis, B., & Figley, C.R. (2004). Development and validation of the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale. Research on Social Work Practice, 14, 27-35.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Secondary Traumatic Stress Committee. (2011). Secondary traumatic stress: A fact
sheet for child-serving professionals. Los Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.

Schauben, L. J., & Frazier, P. A. (1995). Vicarious trauma the effects on female counselors of working with sexual violence survivors. Psychology of women quarterly19(1), 49-64.

Trippany, R. L., Kress, V. E. W., & Wilcoxon, S. A. (2004). Preventing vicarious trauma: What counselors should know when working with trauma survivors.Journal of Counseling & development,82(1), 31-37.