Secondary/Vicarious trauma can occur for those who work with trauma survivors and/or who are exposed to other’s traumatic situations.  Vicarious trauma can affect the following areas: physical, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and spiritual.

It is important to notice changes in yourself after seeing and/or working close to other’s trauma.  Notice if your views start to incorporate the views of the survivor, this can increase with repeated exposure to other’s trauma. OVA provides free and confidential advocacy and counseling services to those supporting the survivor, also known as secondary survivors. It is important for you to have a place to process your own feelings and reactions to mitigate potential for secondary/vicarious trauma and in order to take the best care of yourself while supporting the survivor.

Common Signs of Secondary Trauma

  • You may question your basic beliefs about the world, safety, trust, justice
  • You may have a heightened awareness of the vulnerability and fragility of life
  • Survivors  may feel a sense of powerlessness and that could start to transfer to you
  • Feelings of isolation or alienation may develop.
  • Difficulty managing emotions
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty managing the boundaries between yourself and others
  • Problems in relationships
  • Difficulty feeling connected with what is going on around and within you
  • Loss of meaning and hope
  • Physical manifistations: aches and pains, diffficulty sleeping, fatigue, anxiety, change in appetite

Prevention/Decreasing Secondary Trauma

  • Be aware of your symptoms of stress to prevent them from becoming severe.
  • Establish clear, realistic stress management goals and incorporate the planning and support needed.
  • Incorporate down time in your schedule.
  • Take deep breaths and/or do simple meditation.
  • Make sure to be eating regularly and including healthy foods and water.
  • Develop a support/social system, be it with friends, family, community members, counselors etc.
  • Exercise is a good stress reducing activity.
  • Sleep is very renewing, so try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
  • You may want to limit your exposure to certain media, i.e., the news, newspapers etc.
  • Know your limits and when to ask for help, you do not have to do this alone.

This information was adapted from and Cynthia McKenna.