About the Issue

What is vicarious trauma?

Vicarious trauma involves regular interaction with distressing situations, especially for those who work with survivors of abuse. We carry the stories of trauma and they change our worldview. It is part of the human condition to be affected by the pain of others. Over time—and as a result of ongoing exposure to suffering—someone experiencing vicarious trauma may have the sense that all the upsetting things they see and hear are slowly seeping into their daily lives. It may seem as if something has shifted inside.

Some people may feel overwhelmed and have a heightened sensitivity in situations while others may develop defense mechanisms to keep distressing circumstances at bay. These are attempts to manage and process an increasingly high volume of traumatic information. They are widespread, even rational reactions, which can affect an individual’s health and wellness and work.

Will every worker in the field experience vicarious trauma?

Although healing professionals confront suffering regularly, this doesn’t mean everyone is at risk of vicarious trauma. The effects are person-to-person. Field practitioners greatly benefit from creating proactive strategies in their personal lives and work environment. These include self-care activities, such as engaging in enjoyable activities, learning more about the symptoms, and building self-awareness to better recognize when help is necessary.

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