Working as a therapist is a rewarding yet challenging profession. While helping others cope with their trauma and emotional pain, therapists themselves can be at risk of experiencing vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma (VT) is a term used to describe the emotional and psychological toll that can impact those who regularly hear, witness, or engage with traumatic narratives from their clients. In this blog, we’ll explore what VT is, how to identify it, strategies for self-care, and ways to support other therapists in managing VT.
What is Vicarious Trauma?
Vicarious trauma, also known as secondary trauma, is a phenomenon wherein therapists develop symptoms and emotional distress from absorbing the trauma stories of their clients. Consequently, this can lead to a range of symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion, intrusive thoughts, and changes in worldview. Moreover, VT is particularly prevalent among therapists who work with survivors of traumatic experiences—specifically, professionals like trauma therapists, social workers, or those involved in crisis intervention.
How can one identify Vicarious Trauma?
Recognizing vicarious trauma is essential to addressing it effectively. Therapists should look out for the following signs:
- Emotional Distress
- Sudden and intense emotional reactions to clients’ stories, which may manifest as sadness, anger, or fear.
- Physical Symptoms
- Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, or sleep disturbances related to the emotional impact of client narratives.
- Intrusive Thoughts
- Recurrent distressing thoughts about clients’ traumatic experiences that disrupt daily life.
- Changes in Worldview
- A shift in one’s belief system or worldview, leading to increased pessimism or cynicism.
- Withdrawing from social support networks and experiencing a sense of detachment from others.
What strategies can be used for self-care?
Caring for oneself is essential for therapists to prevent and manage vicarious trauma. Here are some self-care strategies:
- Regular supervision or consultation with experienced colleagues can provide a safe space to process challenging cases and receive support and guidance.
- Establish clear boundaries with clients, encompassing both time and emotional investment. Consequently, learn to assertively say “no” when necessary, safeguarding your well-being.
- Regular self-reflection and self-awareness exercises can help therapists identify their emotional reactions and trigger points.
- Self-Care Routine
- Prioritise self-care in your daily routine. Engage in activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, exercise, or mindfulness practices.
- Support Network
- Build a support network of friends, family, and fellow therapists who can provide emotional support and understanding.
How can one support others with Vicarious Trauma?
Therapists can play a crucial role in helping their colleagues manage VT. Here are ways to support other therapists:
- Normalise Conversations
- Encourage open discussions about VT and its impact within the professional community. Normalise seeking help when needed.
- Provide Resources
- Share resources, books, articles, and self-help tools related to VT and self-care.
- Peer Support
- Establish peer support groups where therapists can meet regularly to discuss their experiences and provide support to one another.
- Encourage Supervision
- Encourage colleagues to engage in clinical supervision and consult with experienced professionals.
- Offer mentoring and guidance to less-experienced therapists, helping them build resilience and self-care practices.
Therapists play a vital role in the mental health and wellbeing of their clients. Nevertheless, the nature of the work puts them at risk of experiencing vicarious trauma. By understanding what VT is and identifying its signs, therapists can actively engage in self-care. This enables them to continue providing compassionate and effective support to their clients while safeguarding their own emotional and psychological well-being. Additionally, supporting fellow therapists in managing VT creates a healthier and more resilient therapeutic community. In conclusion, self-care and peer support can help therapists thrive in their roles, fostering a safer and more supportive environment for both professionals and those they serve.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on email@example.com or call us on 79291817.
- Devilly, G., Wright, R., & Varker, T. (2009). Vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress or simply burnout?: Effect of trauma therapy on mental health professionals. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 43(4), 373-385.
- Ravi, A., Gorelick, J., & Pal, H. (2021). Identifying and addressing vicarious trauma. American Family Physician, 103(9), 570-572. Retrieved from https://ejournals.um.edu.mt/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/identifying-addressing-vicarious-trauma/docview/2519781095/se-2