Tools to Reduce Vicarious Trauma/ Secondary Trauma and Compassion Fatigue

The information in this article is adapted from “The Compassion Fatigue Workbook

Click here for a downloadable PDF to share with your organization

 

“What can I do personally and professionally to reduce the negative stress-related effects of my work?”

We have many resources to recommend. At the bottom of this page, you will find an extensive list of resources, recommendations and selected articles.

[Please note that the outside resources listed here are for reference and personal interest only. It is not intended as a recommendation or endorsement of organizations.]

 

Where to start?

 

For starters, it is helpful to identify the main challenges that you are facing: Is it related to too much exposure to difficult stories or a lack of referral resources? Is it work overload or an unsupportive supervisor/toxic team? Are you struggling with difficult personal circumstances that are affecting your ability to manage your stress? Do you feel overwhelmed with your complex case load and feel that you lack training in managing the most difficult and challenging situations?

The answers will likely be as varied as there are professions and individuals reading these lines. So where can we start?

We often disappoint people who come to us for sound bites and “quick fixes” to these complex issues – the solutions are complicated, just like the work that we do is multi-faceted and challenging. But here are some places to start:

 

Which of these factors are true for you?

 

Recent research in the field of STS and Compassion fatigue suggests that there are particular vulnerability factors that can increase your likelihood of being negatively impacted by your work:

 

Personal Vulnerability

Do you have your own history of trauma? Are you currently struggling with a difficult family/personal circumstance? Do you work with a population
that shares some of your own personal experiences of oppression and/or discrimination? Do you have a history of mental illness or addiction that is currently re-emerging? All of these factors can contribute to increased vulnerability when doing high-stress, trauma-exposed work.

Traumatic Grief & Loss in the Workplace

Have you experienced losses at work? The death(s) of clients or patients, someone that you worked with who disappeared and never returned, providing you with no closure? A beloved colleague who died unexpectedly or retired or was laid off? The loss of a well-respected supportive supervisor or mentor? Significant changes to your workplace?

Direct exposure

Are you exposed to dangerous situations in your work? Have you ever been threatened, assaulted physically or verbally on the job? Is your work high-risk?

Secondary/Vicarious Trauma

Are you regularly exposed to indirect trauma at work? Hearing/viewing difficult case files, traumatic images and stories?

Compassion Fatigue

Have you experienced a shift in your ability to feel empathy for individuals you work with and/or colleagues or loved ones? Some situations can be very depleting – chronically desperate clients who don’t follow through on your recommendations and keep coming back in distress, a very large homogenous case load where all of the stories start sounding the same, years of exposure to traumatic stories that no longer generate any reaction in you.

Systems Failure

Many professionals describe experiencing moral distress around failures of the system: rules, laws and policies that you disagree with but are still mandated to comply with and that you feel are causing further harm, lack of referral resources and other injustices. All of these can lead to a pervasive feeling of anger and contribute to burnout and workplace toxicity and a decrease in the quality of care provided.

Burnout

Burnout can result from a negative overall workplace experience: your hours, your salary, your workload, the health of your work climate, rewards and recognition, who you immediately report to, the quality of your work relationships with colleagues and a perception of fairness and adequate support to do your job in the best way possible. A negative combination of these factors can lead to burnout.

 

 What works?

First, take a look at which elements of this Venn Diagram are most salient for you, and begin by addressing those that feel the most manageable.

As the saying goes “Dig where the ground is soft”. Seek support, formally with a good mental health practitioner or a coach, informally with colleagues and friends, look at ways to reduce trauma exposure in your personal/leisure time.

Learn some stress-reduction techniques; get more training in trauma-informed practices which can be highly protective in retaining compassion when working with difficult cases and finally, please be open to the possibility of changing jobs if things are just too challenging where you are now.

As Cheryl Richardson says in her book “Take time for your life” (1999) “Do not confuse difficult choices with no choice.” There is too much at stake to ignore compassion fatigue and secondary trauma.


TEND Training

Live Training: Bring one of our TEND associates to your organization for specialized training in resilience, compassion fatigue, etc.

Online Courses: Cutting edge online training for high-stress and trauma-exposed workplaces. Discounts available for larger groups. 

Attend a TEND Conference

TEND Books

Building Resilient Teams by Dr. Patricia Fisher – a workbook designed as a practical, realistic and effective approach to building team resiliency and cohesion through a sequence of safe and respectful guided discussions.

Resilience Balance and Meaning Workbook by Dr. Patricia Fisher – designed to provide you with practical help in addressing the effects of workplace stress, burnout and trauma. You will see that it is designed as a highly interactive tool and you are encouraged to make the book your own by responding to the frequent questions, reflections and self-assessments.

The Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu – a lifeline for any helping professional facing the physical and emotional exhaustion that can shadow work in the helping professions

TEND Resources

TEND Blog – frequent posts on topics related to stress, wellness, compassion fatigue and trauma from Françoise Mathieu, Dr. Patricia Fisher and TEND associates. 

TEND Newsletter Archives – archived records of past TEND newsletters, a curated collection of resources related to wellness, burnout and stress.

Compassion Fatigue + Resiliency in Professionals – a Facebook group moderated by TEND that encourages discussions related to compassion fatigue and building resiliency in professionals from a vast array of professions and backgrounds

 


Other Suggested Resources

Secondary Traumatic Stress Consortium [Website]

Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky

Organizational Stress:

Building Resilient Teams by Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.

Is work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress by David Posen

Stress Reduction

Resilience, Balance & Meaning Workbook by Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.

Grounding Skills

 Graham, L. (2013) Bouncing back: rewiring your brain for maximum happiness. New World Library.

Tools for Managing Trauma:

NakazawaD.J. (2015) Childhood DisruptedHow your Biography Becomes your Biology. Atria.

 Van Der KolkB. (2014) The Body Keeps the ScoreBrainMind and Body in the Healingof TraumaPenguin Books.

ScaerR. (2014) The Body Bears the BurdenTraumaDissociation and Disease. Routledge.

MatéG. (2003When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress/Disease Connection. Wiley & Sons.

Work/Life Balance:

Richardson, C. (1999) Take Time for Your Lifea 7 Step Program for Creating the Lifeyou Want. Broadway books.

Mindfulness & Selfcompassion websites

www.franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness

www.self-compassion.org

www.mindfulselfcompassion.org

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