Secondary Trauma was historically a term used to define the psychological impact on professionals following exposure to the traumatic experiences of those they serve. This was known to happen both in real time during a crisis or while a patient/client reported events to providers after the fact. In the present day, secondary trauma has taken on a whole new meaning. Secondary trauma now includes all those exposed to traumatic events be it as a survivor, community member, relative or friend of a victim, or everyday citizen hearing of the traumatic events. Exposure that can result in secondary trauma can be from headlines, news reports, posts on social media, and conversations that dominate social gatherings following horrific events. We now have multiple names for the consequences to those, once removed, associated with traumatic events: Collective trauma, vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, secondary victim syndrome and burn out to name a few. As Covid wages war, school shootings, public massacres and political upheaval continue to occur, people are no longer feeling as though these events are happening “over there” or to “others”. When a previously unknown community takes center stage, people report symptoms now identified as secondary trauma responses. This has led to an increase in the number of people seeking supportive services to address grief, anxiety, depression and hopelessness.
How would one know if what they are experiencing is secondary trauma? Some of the side effects present as anxiety, feelings of helplessness, intrusive reexperiencing of events or stories, negative changes in one’s belief system, moodiness, loss of enthusiasm for what previously brought joy, exhaustion, a need to continuously discuss the traumatizing event, even when exhausted by the subject, withdrawal behaviors in an effort to stay safe.
What can we do to manage secondary trauma: Seek the support of trusted members of ones inner circle. Touch base and let others know of your struggle, identify what symptoms you may be having that are out of character or overwhelming. Engage in familiar activities that were part of your routine prior to the traumatic event, get outside, exercise. Meditation and breathing exercises can also reduce stress. If you become overwhelmed, utilize grounding exercises such as the 5 senses exercise in which you identify one thing you can taste, two things you can smell, three things you can hear, four things you can touch, and five things you can see. If you are a professional and find that you are experiencing secondary trauma seek the support you need. That can be done in the form of collegial support, supervision, supportive consultation and individual therapy.
Robin Miller, LCSW
847-400-0223 ext. 200