“If we’re going to be able to provide high quality effective treatment in an ethical way, we need to set limits. We can’t say yes to everyone and do the work well.”
There are several strategies that can be incorporated in our everyday work routines to help buffer us from the impact of vicarious trauma. Some of these are individual, others involve our co-workers, and still others are the responsibility of the organization that we work at. Indeed, workplaces play a key part in ensuring adequate time and resources are available to mitigate both vicarious trauma and burnout. Saakvitne and Pearlman lay out the following strategies, many of which will fall under all three categories:
- Seek out ongoing professional development and continuing education, including Vicarious Trauma Training. Lack of training often leaves us vulnerable to vicarious trauma.
- Find other outlets or variation within the work – E.g., Rather than only direct service provision, joining committees, doing some research or education or other aspects of the work.
- If possible, ensuring a wide variety of clients are seen – how many are trauma survivors? How many have Complex PTSD? Polysymptomatic? How many of those clients are we seeing at any given time? Our resources are not endless, and it is important to balance our workload.
- Leave time between clients to replenish yourself. Do you get up and walk around? Do you have things in your office to keep you grounded/connected? Do you leave your desk to eat lunch?
- Having rituals can help ease transitions between work and home life, marking the beginning and ending of the workday. This can include ways to move energy built up from trauma stories (either our own or that of the people we care for) and can include anything that helps us relieve, renew, or recover outside of a particularly stressful day. Examples can include eating/drinking mindfully, breathing deeply, running water over your hands/face, stretching, meditating, and visualizations.
- As helpers, we often bear witness to pain, suffering, despair, depravation, human cruelty, and injustice. This can create a lot of anger, outrage, and feelings of helplessness and/or hopelessness. Social engagement and activism can help take an “active” role in doing something about these emotions. Some examples include:
- Writing- participating in letter writing campaigns
- Creating outlets for change
- Organizing or joining a committee or working group making change
- Break through isolation – create or join a peer support group with colleagues. There are a lot of people doing this work and making the world a better place. We can feel less alone when we share our experiences with one another.
- Maintaining a sense of connection with others outside of our organizations, including conferences, workshops, and meetings where you can talk to people doing similar work, both the work and the impact of the work. Creating a network – we can’t do it alone.
- In working with co-workers, seeking out people who can offer support when we’re emotionally drained. We need to rely on coworkers for nurturance and for a new perspective. At the same time, we need to be able to provide that same support to create a culture of care in the workplace.
- Regular and ongoing supervision as well as debriefing is essential. This might mean going outside the agency that you work in as we need to feel comfortable and safe. Both the Supervisor and Helper need an awareness of vicarious trauma and be open to noticing how it impacts the work. For more information, see Vikki Reynold’s work at vikkireynolds.ca
- Striving to provide a safe, comfortable, and private workspace.
- Providing health coverage with mental health supports, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).
- Adequate time off.
- Control over caseloads.
- Support with long waitlists.
- Providing staff with opportunities for professional development and continuing education. Employers need to understand the “cost” of this work as well as the benefits. People with more training have more frameworks to understand vicarious trauma and primary trauma.
- Access to other therapies and services – body therapies, art therapy, lawyers, other social services. Clients need a larger network so that we’re not the only resources. This is true for us as well.
For more information on building Trauma-Informed Organizations, visit here (Trauma-Informed Organizations section in Trauma Informed Care doc)
 Vicarious Traumatization. San Francisco, California, USA. Kanopy Streaming, 2014.