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Vicarious Trauma - Drowning in Empathy


It can also be known as compassion fatigue and let's face it -- it's an occupational challenge. This condition has many parallels to PTSD, but it is indeed different. Vicarious trauma is similar in that it is generally accrued over time, but different in that it is secondary in nature and a direct result of your repeated exposures to someone else's trauma.

To boil it down - caring can come at a cost.


By nature - we enter this profession to help others. By nature, when we start this great career, we have a very strong empathetic response system. Over a two-decade career it is safe to say our empathy and general outlook on the world and even the human race can change for the worse. The ability to be present for others gets lost.


However, it is important to note that vicarious trauma can affect anyone, NOT just those in helping professions such as healthcare. Some would argue that excessive social media consumption can just add fuel to this fire. Just imagine being a teenager in today's world.


This blog will center on helping all of us navigate the challenges of sustaining compassion and empathy towards others - both as individuals and first response professionals. Finding the sweet spot between not caring at all and being too involved certainly isn't easy. We've got to set healthy limits for ourselves or our jobs and the trauma we face can spill into our homes. That transition "home" can be tough especially when we have nothing else "to give".



Advice @ the Individual Level:


▪ Monitor yourself – eat well, rest, and exercise - you know the basics

▪ Self-care – seek balance, engage in outside activities - have friends outside of "the job" ▪ Set professional and personal boundaries - you can't fix everything for everyone

▪ Take advantage of professional development opportunities

▪ Utilize viable, evidence-based treatments for vicarious trauma/secondary traumatic stress that focus on changes in cognitive processes


Advice @ the Organizational/Social Level:


▪ Seek out peer support -- it works

▪ Work with area Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to identify areas of improvement such as in-service trainings on self-care or counseling.... it doesn't have to be punitive.

▪ Use your PTO - it is there for a reason, the place can survive without you

Take advantage of professional education, community service, and public speaking opportunities

▪ Provide a Psychologist Peer Advocate – a specially-trained therapist to assist with cognitive changes resulting from vicarious trauma


You deal with trauma directly, but you also shoulder a lot of indirect trauma from other folks.


Just because you didn’t experience trauma yourself doesn’t mean what you’re experiencing isn’t real. Your experience is valid, and you deserve to heal. After all, you do so much for other people. Perhaps now is the time you can do something for yourself, too.


Trauma is everywhere, but so is resilience!!


April 29, 2024

Author: Joshua Ishmael, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, NRP

Pass with PASS, LLC.

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