I realize I am posting several blogs in a row but I really want to give you as much information as possible about trauma, vicarious & secondary trauma. I am also hoping to post a blog about how trauma triggers during the holidays prior to Thanksgiving.
So as I continue to explore the impact of anniversaries of trauma, secondary & vicarious trauma & secondary trauma in our children, I think it is important to talk about vicarious trauma in those with helping professions. As I mentioned in a previous blog, as a therapist I have experienced vicarious trauma.
When I graduated from California State University, Chico I got a job at a residential treatment center for adolescents in Petaluma. I was excited because I could not believe I would be moving back home to Sonoma County. i was excited to start my new job working with teenagers. I was not prepared for the significant trauma I would hear on a daily basis. I felt overwhelmed by the information I was receiving from reading files, to talk to the youth & from eventually meeting youth for individual therapy. I was surprised by how much these youth had experienced from abandonment, to physical abuse, sexual abuse, severe neglect, bullying, loss of loved ones, foster care, adoption & so on. Some of these youth struggled with significant symptoms including anger, depression, anxiety, impulsivity, physical aggression. Others struggled with being a bully, sexual offenses, & violent offenses. I was 25 years old when I started there & had no idea how overwhelmed I would feel.
My mother worried about me & how I would handle it. Yes, I did take these stories home with me. Yes, I thought about the trauma this teens experienced some as young as toddlers. I will never forget the time when I was talking with a youth. They had described a nightmare they had had & how it made them feel scared. I had to stop myself from speaking & just listen, be there with the youth. Little did that teen know they were sharing an incident that was well documented in their chart.
I was very lucky I had amazing clinical supervisor. I learned how to manage the horrible histories I had heard. I also learned to manage feelings around my childhood. I learned how to set much needed emotional boundaries & often had to tell myself, "that is their stuff, this is mine". I am not a journal writer but I began to create art on the weekends with the teens. I worked on self-care. I exercised when I had time to & I spent time with friends. There are times I still struggle with compassion fatigue & when I notice it, I start back with self-care.
I have included a thorough article explaining vicarious trauma, symptoms, impact on mental health & strategies for self-care.