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Recognizing the signs of Vicarious Trauma

Virginia new something was wrong but couldn’t put her finger on it. For years she had worked as a front-line worker and worked closely with people who were victims of violence, abuse, poverty, homelessness, and addiction. There were no signs of stress, but Virginia noticed her ability to empathize with clients was waning. It was after she took a few weeks off from work that she realized the devastating impact of the vicarious trauma she felt. The lesson Virginia learned from her experience with vicarious trauma was how important it is for people who care for victims of trauma to take care of themselves as well. Front line workers such as therapists, doctors, nurses, social workers, law enforcement, first responders, counselors, and care givers hear the traumatic experiences, and it may overwhelm them and lead them to experience the same feelings faced by the trauma survivors in their care.



People respond to vicarious trauma in many ways. Some people are more affected than others and my experience a wider range of symptoms, which generally fall into one of the following five categories: 1. Emotional symptoms can include lasting feelings of grief, anxiety, or sadness. Some people may become irritable or angry, become distracted frequently, and/or experience changes in mood or sense of humor. A Person might also begin to feel generally unsafe. 2. Behavioral symptoms might include isolation, increase in alcohol or substance consumption, altered eating habits, and difficulty sleeping. People experiencing behavioral symptoms of vicarious trauma may engage in risky behavior and avoid people or tasks, or they might find it difficult to separate work and personal life and may increase their workload. 3. Physiological symptoms, which affect physical well-being, can appear in the form of headaches, rashes, ulcers, or heartburn, among others. 4. Cognitive symptoms may take the form of cynicism and negativity or lead to difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions in daily life. A helping professional may also find it difficult to stop thinking about the trauma experienced by a person in their care, even when not at work. 5. Spiritual symptoms can include a loss of hope, a decreased sense of purpose, and feelings of disconnect from others and the world in general. People may lose eight of their life purpose or come to feel as if they are unworthy of love or do not deserve love. People in the helping professions can take specific steps to reduce the risk of vicarious traumatization. The best way is making enough time for self-care. Not sure what I mean. Use The 5 Pillars of Self-Care as a resource on your journey to gain balance. Some other resources to help front line workers include the Compassion Fatigue Assessment and Staff Burnout Quiz.

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