Vicarious Trauma, the therapists’ traumatic stress reaction when hearing their clients’ trauma stories was described in professional literature by McCann and Pearlman during the 1990’s. However, we have long used a range of words to describe this reaction, including secondary trauma, compassion fatigue and even plain old “burn out”. Whatever we call it, most of us have been touched by it at some stage of our therapeutic career. For me it begins to nudge me each December, just before I am due to take an annual holiday. Occasionally it pops up at other times to remind me my caseload is too big and that I need to make more time for self-care. Perhaps those of us who work with complex trauma and dissociative disorders are particularly vulnerable, for it is well-accepted that clients with dissociative disorders tend to be among the most severely traumatised clients. Hernandez-Wolfe and colleagues maintain we are vulnerable to trauma transmission due to the empathic bond we form with our clients, the very bond that enables us to bear witness to the horrific stories of our clients. In addition, therapists working with dissociative disorders often work somewhat on the ‘outer’ of mainstream mental health services and may experience interactions with colleagues who doubt the validity and efficacy of our work, which adds to the stress of the work. Like therapists in all areas of mental health, we are most vulnerable when we have stress in our personal lives, lack supportive networks, or if we have a background of trauma ourselves. Supervision and case consultation are enormously helpful, as is making time for self care such as exercise, spiritual practice and rest. Even though there has been research investigating many aspects of vicarious trauma, our day to day awareness of it is still relatively new. Many of us find that the agencies we work for are also ill-equipped to deal with and prevent vicarious trauma. The rate of burnout in our profession suggests that we, as therapists, are not adequately equipped to deal with this issue. Interestingly, when I perused the many therapy books on my shelf, very few of those dealing with complex trauma and dissociation had sections on vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, burn out, or preventing and managing these. It is fitting, then, that ISSTD is launching a new Vicarious Trauma SIG. The Vicarious Trauma and Self-Care SIG seeks to create an open forum for ISSTD members to discuss, share, learn, practice and research about:
- the impact of clinical work with trauma on their personal selves;
- strategies, tools, & protocols to protect and sustain one’s self in the long-term career of a trauma professional; and
- the SIG will also work on raising awareness of and attention to the vicarious trauma in our clinical/research field.
The SIG has been started by ISSTD Member Irina Diyankova. Irina is a therapist based in Knoxville, TN. Irina works with complex and developmental trauma survivors in her private practice. She also leads continuing education workshops on the use of yoga in the treatment of trauma for Vyne Education and PESI. Irina felt inspired to set up the SIG after dealing with her own struggles to balance clinical trauma work with the rest of her life and finding little systemic support for self-care and vicarious trauma prevention in different professional organizations and agencies. Having to find different supports and tools to remedy the negative impact of the trauma work on her own, Irina always wanted to have community to address this issue. After having conversations with several ISSTD members during 2018 conference and receiving their enthusiastic support, the SIG was born. The SIG is very new with a small number of members, but the group is enthusiastic and keen to welcome new members. The group also needs a Secretary and welcomes applications for this position. As this is a new SIG there is space for the scope and mission of the group to evolve as it gains in membership and is shaped by members’ specific interests. If interested in joining, please contact: Irina V Diyankova, Ph.D: firstname.lastname@example.org
More about ISSTD Special Interest Groups: ISSTD Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are open to all ISSTD Members who have specific interest in certain areas of the field. ISSTD SIGs have been developed by members for members, and are geared to provide ISSTD members with particular in-depth interest in certain areas related to trauma and dissociation. There are five currently active Special Interest Groups:
- Child and Adolescent Special Interest Group (C&A SIG)
- Creative Art Therapies Special Interest Group (CAT SIG)
- Ritual Abuse Mind Control Organized Abuse Special Interest Group (RAMCOA SIG)
- Transitional Age Youth Special Interest Group (TAY SIG)
- Vicarious Trauma Special Interest Group
For more information contact email@example.com
Hernandez-Wolfe, P, Killian, K, Engstrom, D & Gangsei, D (2014). Vicarious Resilience, Vicarious Trauma, and Awareness of Equity in Trauma Work. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, May 2014, 1–20.
McCann, L & Pearlman, L (1990) Vicarious traumatization: A framework for understanding the psychological effects of working with victims, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3(1), pp 131–149.