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Understanding Vicarious Trauma

Nonprofit sectors are filled with committed, overworked social service professionals who help clients overcome various forms of trauma. One common occupational hazard of this profession is vicarious trauma, where the professional helper begins to show signs of the same wear and tear evident in their clientele. Their desire to care for and help their clients combined with feelings of empathy for their clients’ crisis or pain can create ideal conditions for vicarious trauma.

Types of nonprofit workers that experience vicarious trauma include:

  • Victim advocates
  • Mental health clinicians
  • Substance abuse counselors
  • Disability workers
  • Crisis center workers
  • 9-1-1 dispatchers and operators
  • And more

Social service professions often have large staff turnover and worker shortages as well as extensive sick time because of vicarious trauma. It is imperative that social service nonprofit leadership learn more about vicarious trauma and educate their staff and board members to alleviate the negative effects of this condition.

Effects of Trauma on the Brain

The limbic system of the brain is responsible for the “fight, flight, freeze or faint” response which is triggered when the mind senses the body is in danger or experiencing trauma. Information is processed by the thalamus and if the brain sends the message that the body is in danger, the Amygdale starts the response process.

The right side of the brain takes over, which manages the visual, kinesthetic and creative skills, allowing for strength and strategy to help save the day. The left side of the brain, which manages language and coping skills, shuts down. This explains why victims are confused and have difficulty explaining what happened after a crime occurs.

Vicarious trauma can trigger the same brain reactions on a smaller scale. Because a social worker may hear up to 100 traumatic stories each month, the trauma experience can be as debilitating over time as a one-time traumatic experience.

Symptoms of Vicarious Trauma

Physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms can include:

  • Compassion fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Sleeplessness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Digestion problems
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Low motivation
  • Oversensitive feelings
  • Desensitized feelings (numbness)
  • Flashbacks of past cases
  • Memory or concentration loss
  • Poor decision making
  • Self medication (alcohol and over-the-counter medications)

Some of these symptoms have caused social worker licenses to be revoked. It is important that social workers manage their own needs without relying on the affirmation of their clients. Social workers must adhere to their integrity and code of ethics established by the National Association of Social Workers. These ethics include avoiding self disclosure, inappropriate physical contact or discussing cases with friends or family.

Contributing Factors

Many people in helping professions have experienced their own trauma in the past. They may not only experience flashbacks of past clients, but face flashbacks from their own medical or crime related trauma. Some choose the profession to understand their own trauma experience and help end the pain of others who were similarly traumatized.

Falling victim to the general consensus that healers should not need to be healed, social service professionals who experience symptoms of vicarious trauma may be ashamed about their condition and fear the repercussions from their employers, co-workers and clients.

Vicarious trauma is often ignited among counselors who are overwhelmed and overworked because of poor organizational structure surrounding case management. This exhaustion can lead to clinical errors, which can negatively affect an organization’s reputation and future funding.

Trauma Counseling Degrees – Spotlight on a Psychology Career

If you are thinking of establishing your career in the field of psychology than among the different options that will allow you to explore your opportunities and learn new things every day is a trauma counseling degree. In this career, a professional has to implement mental-health programs through working with different people to help them find a solution for their problems via a series of the traditional and institutional techniques.

There are different schools that allow you to earn a trauma counseling psychology degree. After getting your degree you will need to get a license to perform research on different therapeutic models and methods and work as a private psychologist / counselor.

After earning your trauma counseling degree you will be providing therapy alliance to different patients in order to simplify the process of internal healing. Many patients seek the advice and help of trauma counselors when they have been traumatized from any kind of misunderstanding, tragedy or abuse. Trauma counseling professionals examine the victim through the medium of different models and processes of support and analyze their problem from variety of angles to give them solutions.

In the counseling degree specializing in trauma, you will be taught different ways in which you can understand the situations and conditions that a patient is going through and recommend the right treatment, therapy or procedure to come out of it and lead his/her life happily.

There are many examples when we see people suffering from one or the other kind of traumatic condition due to loss of their family members, loss of a loved one, relationship breakup, Divorce, problems with marriage or any other family problems. Coming out of a trauma is essentially important in order to make a person live his/her life in a normal way.

There are several online trauma counseling schools that will help you in attaining trauma counseling degree. But before you register yourself with any of the online degree courses it is important that you search the background and history of the college and investigate if it has been accredited and approved by the department of psychology of your state.

Gaining the degree from a reputed and accredited college is very helpful in giving your career a boost. And the medium of imparting education of a good trauma counseling school is different as they provide more practical knowledge and information to their students.

You can also study for a psychology degree in trauma counseling from a regular university.

A career as a trauma counselor is a rewarding and promising career where you will have the chance to positively affect the lives of many people who have undergone difficult times in their life.

How to Deal With a Trauma: 7 Steps to Take After a Car Accident

Minor car accidents are one of the many little traumas we encounter in life. What may seem minor at the time, however, can become something major if the effects of the trauma are ignored. We can deal with these traumas with a very easy technique that will stop them from becoming big traumas that stay in the body and wreak havoc later in life.

In the act of living, we constantly encounter events in our lives that are challenging. In trauma, a challenge is any event that is perceived as a threat and causes us to “rise to the occasion” to deal with it. That is, we summon all our strength, focus our attention, and direct our actions to bring the challenge to a satisfactory conclusion. When we meet the challenge successfully, we feel strong. It was a little trauma. If we don’t, it can impact our well-being for years to come–a big trauma.

So let’s say on the way to the supermarket, you round a corner and find the traffic has come to a sudden stop-too sudden for you to stop. You rear-end the car in front of you. Yikes! What now?

Before you can even blink, the body has already launched a survival response. The first response? How can I get away or flee? Which is usually not an option if it is your car. Since you can’t run, the second response follows in a split second-the urge to fight. But who are you going to fight? The driver of the car you hit? That could create more trauma.

So what is left? Since you couldn’t respond with the first two survival urges, your body will temporarily shut down. You freeze after impact and sit there stunned.

But then the neocortex kicks in. You jump out of the car and quickly start planning the next course of action. You confront the driver you hit, drop to your knees and apologize, exchange contact information, drop to you knees again and beg the other driver not to report it to the insurance companies, etc.

Later, you go home. You feel extremely tired. You just want to sleep, or check out by watching TV, or drink a case of beer. For days afterwards you feel tired. That little trauma has become a big one. And it links up with all the other impact traumas you had before this accident and will anchor itself to the ones that follow.

What could you have done to completely bypass the effects of the trauma? You could travel back in time and avoid the accident. But that isn’t a very good option at this time.

Here is the secret to preventing a trauma: Do nothing. And do it by yourself.

1. If at all possible, you should slip out of the car and sit on the curb-by yourself.

· If people come up to you, you can shoo them away by saying something like, “I have rabies and feel like biting.” Or perhaps, “I need a few moments to myself.”

2. As you sit there, turn your awareness away from the chaos around you, focus it on your body, and find a place in your body that grabs your attention. Then describe the sensation to yourself.

· What do you feel in your body? Where do you feel it? What is the exact sensation? Tightness? Pressure? Pulling? All sensate words.

3. After you have located one sensation, find a place in your body that feels the opposite of that feeling and place your full attention there.

· If you feel tension in your chest, look for a place somewhere else that either feels relaxed or at least tension-free. Focus on it.

4. Then bring your awareness back to the original site in your body that had a negative feeling.

· So you feel tension in your chest. You observe it. Then you find that your toes feel fine. So you focus on them for a few moments. Then you go back to your chest.

5. You continue to swing your attention between the two areas. This is called Pendulation.

6. You will probably feel either a soft trembling or shaking throughout your body. This is the nervous energy from the trauma discharging. The discharge is what rids the body of the trauma. Don’t try to stop it or control it. Let it happen. It is good.

· You may also feel a series of deep breaths and yawning instead of the shaking. These are also signs of discharge.

7. After you go through the cycle of pendulation with one set of feelings, go to another set and repeat the process. The more you can do, the better.

But at some point you will have to stand up and head back into the fray. Not only will you be surprised by how well you handle the situation now, you will also be free from the reactivation of the trauma in the future. Instead of becoming upset when you recount the story to your spouse or friends, you will just tell it with the same emotions as relating what you had for breakfast that morning.

If you can’t sit down and handle it at the site of the trauma, you can do it later when you’re alone. Just recall the accident from the moment of impact and follow the above steps. Since the trauma has lodged itself in your body, it will be there waiting either to discharge its energy now or grow into a problem later.