Vicarious Trauma

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Mental health care therapists and providers in the grief, loss and trauma fields often hear detailed and harrowing stories about the unfair, undeserved and often unimaginable traumatic experiences that their clients have endured.  As a result, they are at risk for vicarious trauma, also known as secondary traumatization, secondary stress disorder, or insidious trauma.  Friends, family members and spiritual leaders who are providing support to the survivor are also at risk for vicarious trauma. Some precursors to vicarious trauma that you might hear about are compassion fatigue or burnout.

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.   Vicarious trauma often carries many of the same symptoms as first-hand trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder. These symptoms are usually grouped into three broad categories:

  • Intrusions, such as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts
  • Avoidance of situations, people or places that bring on the intrusions
  • Hyperarousal, including hypervigilance, sleeplessness, and increased startle response (“jumpiness”)

TRE is a self help tool that therapists, carers and supporters can use to restore their own health and enable them to continue providing the support.  TRE is being taken up by voluntary sector organisations here in Scotland, not only with the aim of helping people using services but also to provide staff with a self help tool.
Babette Rothschilde in her book ” Help for the Helper ” writes extensively about psychophysiological counter transference responses between helper and client – in any work with trauma a high degree of self awarenes and ongoing personal work is important and because TRE works at such a deep level to recalibrate the nervous system away from fight or flight and dissociative states it is a really effective tool to aid the processing of vicarious trauma .

Mandy and Vicki were delighted to have the opportunity to run a CPD day on TRE at Strathclyde Counselling Unit during May 2015. The course was a whole day introduction to TRE for Counsellors and Psychotherapists aimed at giving the participants the experience of tremoring for their own personal use.
We received some really lovely feedback from the 15 participants about the training and hope to be able to return to Strathclyde in the future.
”present ,gentle, competant – able to create and hold a safe environment”
and ”enthusiastic,excited, living proof of the therapeutic worth of TRE”