Vicarious Trauma: Potential mental health impacts on those engaging with people in distress

The British Medical Association (BMA) defines Vicarious Trauma as ‘a process of change resulting from empathetic engagement with trauma survivors.’ Typically, people in roles such as therapists, health care workers, and other support workers may experience vicarious trauma.

By regularly hearing of or witnessing the impact of traumas on others through their jobs, these learnings can have an accruing effect on the person giving support, resulting in adverse mental health impacts.

At Kineara, our Housing Support Workers and Practitioners work with clients going through various degrees of distress. In our line of work this can range from anything from sleep loss to isolation, fear, and panic; not only do we witness the experiences of our clients, but we take the journey with them, doing what we can to be a listening ear and advocate for them. This can however take its own toll.

Below are some tips on recognising and remedying signs of vicarious trauma:

Recognising some of the signs of Vicarious Trauma

  • Feeling overly involved in the lives of those you are helping.
  • Experiencing anxiety about the cases you are working.
  • Significant negative feelings such as guilt, shame, pessimism, anger, and sadness about the situations faced by those you are helping.
  • Becoming preoccupied outside of work with the situations of those you’re helping.
  • Feeling detached and trying not ‘block out’ the stories you are hearing from those you are trying to help.
  • Going beyond the realistic requirements of your role and exceeding the limits of help you should be offering.

Remedying the signs of Vicarious Trauma

  • Check in with yourself regularly – ask yourself how you are feeling.
  • Look after yourself; your physical and mental wellbeing are just as important as that of those you are supporting.
  • Ensure you have a healthy work-life balance; give yourself time to switch off and take yourself away from sources of work like laptops and phones.
  • Think realistically about what you can accomplish for each case you are working on.
  • Check in with your colleagues and talk about your cases with them.

With Mental Health Awareness week in full flow, we thought it apt also to shine a light on some of the mental health risks that come with supporting others. It is also a great opportunity to give a big shout out to everyone who undertakes jobs that can put them at risk of empathy fatigue in order to help others in need. For some insights into Vicarious Trauma training some of our practitioners have undertaken, please check out a previous article that was previously published on the Homeless link website here.