Vicarious and secondary trauma is becoming more and more familiar with advocates and workers that are front-line with victims of trauma. Be it a school system employee, investigator, criminal justice system worker, 911 operators, or advocates; this type of trauma is an occupational hazard.
While the terms vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress are used interchangeably, there are minor differences. Vicarious trauma is more of what we think of as “compassion fatigue” that comes along with hearing about the same traumas repetitively, which can create a world view shift. Secondary Traumatic Stress, however, presents itself with symptoms similar to PTSD and can occur from exposure over a long period or one specific event.
So why is this important to know? Because it is up to leaders to be aware of that their staff might be at risk for these traumas and be prepared to handle them. Below are a few steps that supervisors, leaders, and co-workers can follow to help their team.
Training. Have your staff trained on the effects of vicarious and secondary trauma. Include the signs, warnings, and agency protocol.
Limits. If possible, through staffing and funding, try to limit the exposure to the same traumas throughout the day.
Breaks. Allow for cushioning between clients or allow for staff to step away after a specifically tough client.
Awareness. If it’s known that someone in the office is having a hard time, touch base with them and make sure that everyone on the team knows that one of their own is having a hard time.
Communication. Leave all lines of communication open. There is no shame in feeling burned out, or acknowledging that one case was more overwhelming than most.
One of the main focuses of our trauma-informed training is the focus on staff. At BCG, we recognize the challenges and incredibly hard work that front-line staff does every day. If you have an interest in having your agency trained to become trauma-informed or questions about vicarious or secondary trauma, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.