Coastal Child and Adult Therapeutic Services

Vicarious Trauma

Exposure to other people’s psychological trauma (e.g. seeing, hearing or reading about people’s victim experiences), can result in symptoms which are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Elwood et. al., 2011; Finklestein et. al., 2015).  These symptoms can include a loss of self-esteem, changes in core beliefs and schemas (e.g. believing that the world is unsafe), experiencing nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, anger, and shame (Lonergan et al., 2004; McElvaney & Tatlow-Golden, 2016).  Experiencing these symptoms as a result of exposure to others’ trauma is known as vicarious trauma (Motta, 2012).

Some emerging research suggests that there are things people can do to reduce their own risk of experiencing vicarious trauma.   This includes increasing people’s general awareness of vicarious trauma, including its causes, symptoms and strategies to offset these (Osofsky, 2011); listening to calming music; changing into different clothes when finishing work; increasing fulfilment in life outside of work (Neumann & Gamble, 1995); understanding the reasons behind other people’s traumatic experiences, and using positive coping strategies (Horvath & Massey, in press; Osofsky, 1999; Weaks, 1999).

CCATS is currently involved in expanding the literature base around vicarious trauma.  Our goal is to undertake research which can be of direct benefit to clients who are exposed to other people’s psychological trauma.  There are currently research projects underway and which will be submitted for publication.

At CCATS, we also provide specialist support to organisations to increase their ability to safeguard staff from vicarious trauma.  This is done through consultancy and training, for example by delivering workshops, training events, assisting with policy design and implementation, changing organisational culture, and advising on supervision systems.