Vicarious Trauma: How does it affect me?

Wednesday, June, 4th, 2014 by Nancy Vogel

Vicarious Trauma:   Mental health care providers often hear detailed and harrowing stories about the unfair, undeserved and traumatic experiences that their clients have endured.  As a result of utilizing a controlled empathetic response when listening to these stories, counsellors are at risk for vicarious trauma, also known as secondary traumatization, or secondary stress disorder. Vicarious trauma occurs when an individual who was not an immediate witness to the trauma absorbs and integrates disturbing aspects of the traumatic experience into his or her own functioning. Some precursors to vicarious trauma that you might hear about are compassion fatigue or burnout.


Take time for yourself. Resist the urge to work through the day without a break. Your mind and spirit need this respite. It is also critical that we take time outside of work to engage in enjoyable and restorative activities.

Limit yourself. Make sure you are maintaining proper boundaries not only with your clients, but also with your workplace. Try to vary the type of work you are doing (individual vs. group, direct vs. indirect, clinical vs. administrative). Be realistic about goals for your clients.

Separate yourself. As mental health professionals, we often provide a holding environment for our client’s pain in the counseling room. Remember to tell yourself, “This is not my pain. I am just holding it for a little while.”

Take care of yourself. Just as we tell our clients, it is important for us to get enough rest, eat balanced and healthy meals and maintain a regular physical exercise routine.

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