April 15, 2020

Author: Jordan Snoddy
Domestic Violence Supervisor
Substance Use Counselor


It is suggested that those who work with individuals who have experienced trauma often experience vicarious trauma themselves. Vicarious trauma (VT) is the emotional residue from working with individuals who share their trauma stories. The helpers, or those who are listening, become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured. Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full and expected range of emotions and experiences.

How do you know if you are experiencing vicarious trauma? Have the stories you’ve heard created longer than expected effects on your day-to-day emotions and routines?


Here are some indicators of someone who may be experiencing vicarious trauma:


  • frequent job changes
  • tardiness
  • free floating anger/irritability
  • absenteeism
  • irresponsibility


  • exhaustion
  • talking to oneself (a critical symptom)
  • going out to avoid being alone
  • dropping out of community affairs
  • rejecting physical and emotional closeness


  • staff conflicts
  • blaming others
  • conflicting engagement
  • poor relationships
  • poor communication
  • impatience
  • avoiding working with clients with trauma history
  • lack of collaboration
  • withdrawal and isolation from colleagues
  • change in relationship with colleagues
  • difficulty having rewarding relationships


  • dissatisfaction
  • negative perception
  • loss of interest
  • apathy
  • blaming others
  • lack of appreciation
  • lack of interest and caring


  • detachment
  • low self image
  • worried about not doing enough
  • questioning identity, world view, and/or spirituality
  • hopelessness
  • disruption in needs, beliefs and relationships (safety, trust, esteem, control, and intimacy)


  • low motivation
  • increased errors
  • decreased quality


  • avoidance of job responsibilities
  • over-involved in details/perfectionism
  • lack of flexibility

It is also important to be aware of risk factors for experiencing vicarious trauma which might include the following:

  • Personality and coping style
  • Personal trauma history
  • Current life circumstances
  • Social support
  • Resources
  • Work style- work/life boundaries
  • Professional role/work setting/degree of exposure
  • Agency support
  • Societal support and acknowledgement
  • Level of personal identification with the population you serve
  • Cultural style of expressing distress and openness to extending and receiving assistance

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of vicarious trauma the following suggestions might be useful in coping:

  • Be aware of symptoms of stress before they become severe
  • Establish clear, realistic stress management goals and tools
  • Incorporate all the support and planning necessary to make it work
  • Quality nutrition, exercise and rest
  • Self awareness
  • Life skills that equip us to cope better
  • Social connection with others
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Personal or spiritual development giving meaning and purpose

It is important to remember that the work people do, who have experience vicarious trauma, matters. In many cases, the best way to find solutions when experiencing vicarious trauma is through the support and guidance of a professional counselor. Families First can help you find a path toward healing with affordable professional counseling services for adults, couples, children and families.


“It is a privilege to be in the presence of survivors – to witness their courage, their strength and their commitment to healing themselves and our world. It is also a privilege to be in the company of all of us here for those very same reasons….”