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What is Vicarious Trauma?

Sad and concerned hispanic mature woman being consoled by her friend

Equation delivers training around domestic and sexual abuse to professionals from a breadth of different sectors of work. Professionals in the sector are often the crucial link between survivors and their access to specialist support across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. This link can provide an important turning point for an individual being able to leave an abusive situation and recover from their experiences.

On a daily basis, we and all professionals working in the sector demonstrate empathy, compassion, and active listening in order to do our best for service users. In doing so, we often encounter harrowing personal accounts of domestic and sexual abuse. Over time, hearing such accounts of abuse can have a potentially detrimental impact on our own psychological well-being and might manifest as vicarious trauma. However, as professionals, we often neglect our own self-care, perhaps because we do not recognise the impact that our work can have on ourselves, or perhaps because we forget that we are also deserving of nourishing our own physical and mental well-being.

Vicarious trauma is sometimes referred to as secondary trauma or indirect traumatisation. Vicarious trauma is the effect of indirect exposure to a traumatic event. This might be through witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event experienced by another person. As a result, professionals can report symptoms of trauma themselves through their work supporting survivors.

Symptoms of vicarious trauma can include disrupted sleep, isolation, headaches, difficulties concentrating, and a negative outlook on the world. Left unaddressed, vicarious trauma can result in entrenched changes in how we view ourselves and others. This can also impact our ability to continue working effectively with survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.

However, there are ways in which individuals and organisations can help mitigate the risk of vicarious trauma through appropriate training and supervision. This might be through simple steps such as individual reflection, connecting with social support, to more traditionally therapeutic interventions.

In recognition of the pivotal work that local professionals undertake to support survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, Equation is holding a free of charge, three-hour seminar on vicarious trauma on October 18th 2017 in order to increase awareness of what vicarious trauma is, how to identify the signs, and what individuals and organisations can do to increase mitigation of the risk of vicarious trauma. You can find out further details and book your place for this free event on our website.

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