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Managing Vicarious Trauma

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

August 3, 2021 by Dr. Roz Roach

Since my last blog, the Healing Place has received ten (10) calls from survivors of abuse seeking service and/or admissions. This is consistent with the reported increase in incidents of domestic violence during COVID. I have personally listened to two cases presented directly to me as the survivors sought support, guidance and comfort.

Every service provider giving support, guidance and comfort is internalizing survivors’ experiences and is vulnerable to vicarious or secondary trauma. But how do we manage vicarious trauma when moving from day-to-day and case-to-case while remaining well as we do this critical work of supporting victims of domestic abuse?

First, it is important that we recognize the signs and symptoms of vicarious trauma. There is a wide range of symptoms that are presented with vicarious trauma. Some common symptoms are: chronic fatigue, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, hyper vigilance and depressed mood. Compassionate fatigue is readily identifiable. Over-identification and projection are common symptoms but not as easy to identify. Self -destructive behaviours are prominent and are often recognized as the survivor projects all her internalized feelings onto those that she loves or are safely close to. Pushing away or causing harm to loved ones is another indicator. All these signs and symptoms are channeled into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2015, a study by Ambre Associates found that almost 25% of people who had no prior experience with trauma exhibited vicarious trauma from just watching violent media coverage. How often have we heard individuals say that they do not watch news coverage because, “It is too depressing”?

Since violence is everywhere in our daily lives, it is important that we find ways and means to mitigate its impact.

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