Vicarious traumatization is the emotional result of working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. Vicarious trauma develops over time and happens because you care, empathize and feel committed to helping.
The detriment of vicarious trauma is the risk of having a profound shift in outlook where your fundamental beliefs and perspectives are altered, and potentially damaged through repeated exposure to traumatic material. If not addressed, vicarious trauma could result in compassion fatigue and/or burnout.
We have outlined the signs of vicarious trauma below as well as suggestions for support.
Who may be at risk
Vicarious trauma is often seen in people who work in humanitarian professions. The culture of this work can sometimes be characterized by self-neglect, toughing it out or denial of personal needs. Some of the other risk factors include people who:
- Tend to avoid problems or difficult feelings.
- Have experienced trauma themselves.
- Are experiencing stress outside of their work life.
- Do not have adequate social supports.
- Hold unrealistic expectations of work and boundaries.
- Do not understand cross-cultural differences in expressing distress and asking for help.
Warning signs of vicarious trauma
To help you identify potential situations of vicarious trauma, we have gathered a list of signs to pay attention to: