Secondary Trauma

Results from indirect exposure to trauma or traumatic content. It can be caused when one is subjected to some other living being’s suffering. Can occur unexpectedly and suddenly.

Who is at risk?  Anyone working with survivors of trauma and violence. is at risk of being impacted negatively by the varied effects of secondary trauma.

The main types of secondary trauma are vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout. We will usually experience secondary trauma when one of the following happens:

  • Hear a first hand account of a traumatic event;
  • Viewing graphic news reports, frightening T.V shows;
  • Viewing crime scene evidence;
  • Working in a court room;
  • Interpreting distressing content.

However, as with primary trauma, there are certain vulnerability factors that would increase the likelihood of experiencing the negative effects of secondary trauma.

These factors are important to keep in mind, especially for interpreters of languages from small communities. Many interpreters in these situations may have been a refugee or asylum seekers themselves, or know one. This would make them even more susceptible.

Vulnerability factors

  • Prior traumatic experiences;
  • Tendency to avoid feelings to having difficulty expressing feelings;
  • Lack of an effective self-care strategy     

(Bancroft, Allen, Green, & Feuerle, 2015) (OVC)

Burnout

Burnout is the least problematic of the three, it is usually a symptom of compassion fatigue. It is not often a result of secondary trauma but rather a sign that something is not right. It can occur in any professional field.

It is motivation-based, causing emotional and psychological exhaustion related to an individual’s work (Sudden 2019; The Lookout 2017). By this, we mean that the person loses the desire and motivation to continue their job or their life, as it is.

The person will usually find they are:

  • Worn down mentally, emotionally and physically;
  • Have increased sensitivity to the feelings of others or experience no compassion;
  • Experience feelings of survivor guilt

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue will normally be found in those people who are in a helping profession where their work involves continued encounters with people who are suffering deeply.

Caused by the emotional ‘residue’ of working with those who have experienced trauma (Sudden 2019; AIS 2017).

  • Commonly caused by a need to protect oneself from suffering;
  • Drains you of feeling and caring

Vicarious trauma

Vicarious trauma can result in symptoms and experiences similar to those of primary trauma.

It will quite often be classified as work-related trauma as it is one of the outcomes of repeated exposure to distressing content; such as listening to clients recount their trauma as well as reviewing photo’s, videos and case files. Symptoms intrude on daily life. 

(OVC)

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