What is Vicarious Trauma?
Vicarious trauma, also known as compassion fatigue, is the impact on the well-being of a service provider due to the continued exposure to a victim or victims’ traumatic experiences. It is common for service providers who work with survivors of sexual violence to experience vicarious trauma.
Vicarious trauma presents itself in a variety of ways that are similar to the common physical and emotional effects after sexual assault. Service providers experiencing compassion fatigue often report nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and feeling angry, irritable, and/or disinterested in things they used to enjoy. These effects can have a direct impact on the work you do. If you are experiencing vicarious trauma, you may feel trapped in your work or attempt to avoid discussing your clients' experiences with them.
It is important differentiate between vicarious trauma with “burnout”. Burnout happens gradually and builds up over time. Time away from work or new job responsibilities can improve feelings of burnout. Vicarious trauma, however, is a stressful or traumatic state due to the preoccupation with stories or trauma experienced by clients.
As service providers, you know that sexual violence can have profound psychological, emotional, and physical effects on survivors. It’s important to acknowledge that sexual violence is complex, and it impacts all of us in different ways, including family members, friends, and service providers.
Although you may not experience trauma directly in your life, because of your close contact with survivors and their stories in your work, you may feel some of the same emotions as your clients. For service providers who are themselves survivors of sexual assault, vicarious trauma may be even more of a significant concern. You may experience flashbacks or thoughts about your own trauma when working with survivors. Experiencing fatigue or vicarious trauma throughout your work is common, and you don’t have to work through it alone. Safe Helpline is here to support you as well as your clients today and every day.
How Can Safe Helpline Help?
If you are experiencing vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue, there are a number of resources that can provide assistance, such as mental health and counseling services. If you are experiencing a crisis or looking for additional support, you are welcome to connect with Safe Helpline staff.
Our Telephone and Online Helplines are available 24/7 as an anonymous, secure, and confidential resource for members of the DoD community, including service providers. Our trauma-informed staff are always here to help support you and your clients.
You may also benefit from searching our Responders Near Me database to find resources for support, both on base and in your community.
If you are looking for support on the go, our Safe Helpline Mobile App, available for free on the App Store and Google Play, offers crisis support and self-care resources anytime, anywhere.
Safe Helpline thanks you for the hard work you put in to support survivors in the DoD community. Experiencing vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue in your work as a service provider is common and you deserve support. We are here to support you, today and every day.
To learn more about vicarious trauma, please explore the resources below:
- Office of Victims of Crime, What is Vicarious Trauma
- American Counseling Association, Vicarious Trauma
- Vicarious Trauma and Resilience
“What Is Vicarious Trauma?” Office for Victims of Crime, ovc.ojp.gov/program/vtt/what-is-vicarious-trauma.
 Vicarious Trauma. American Counseling Association. www.counseling.org/docs/trauma-disaster/fact-sheet-9---vicarious-trauma.pdf.