People who help victims of trauma do some of the hardest and most important work there is. Yet, they are often overloaded, underpaid, and under-resourced. The work they do, in combination with the environment in which they do it, often leads to secondary trauma. This model is a framework for guiding individuals through the issue of secondary trauma, including how it develops, how to recognize its symptoms, and how to intervene at the individual, supervisory, and organizational levels.

Many social service practitioners are familiar with the concept of secondary trauma (often used interchangeably with compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma). A plethora of studies have concluded that it can have serious emotional and physical consequences. However, resources that move beyond traditional “self-care” strategies (yoga, bubble baths, etc…) are practically few and far between.

This dearth of information may be because true secondary trauma mitigation requires a substantial paradigm shift on numerous levels, including funders and average community members. Decreasing secondary trauma requires systemic change, beginning with the individual and eventually reaching funders, partners, community members and politicians.

Secondary trauma can result from a single event, the effects of many events, or from the build-up of cumulative trauma. Our suggestions for individuals revolve around identifying issues and finding personal solutions. Our organizational suggestions are geared towards identifying patterns and creating systematic solutions. Our supervisory and peer solutions incorporate both.

We don’t view secondary trauma as a negative thing. On the contrary, it can lead to a more fulfilling personal and professional life. Still, in order to remain committed, effective, and positive, we must work to mitigate the effects of secondary trauma, lest they do more harm than good. The biological effects of secondary trauma have been well documented – they include chronic pain, issues with gaining or losing weight, issues with drugs or alcohol and much more. Caretakers of those who suffer from traumatic events react in a variety of ways that involve their body and mind. The effects from witnessing or caring for victims of trauma can alter us physically and mentally long after the experience has ended.

Luckily, research has also proven that our brains and bodies are malleable, and, with some effort, we can reverse these negative consequences and come out even stronger. This Secondary Trauma Resource Center celebrates that fact and gives lots of suggestions about how to re-regulate our lives. It also recognizes what a long way we’ve come in the area of identifying secondary trauma and promoting trauma-informed practices.

Our model is the first that we know of to take a public health approach to mitigate the effects of secondary trauma. This approach, known as the socio-ecologic approach, gives tools and suggestions for individuals, institutions, and communities to prevent secondary trauma. Our model also utilizes research on how to improve leadership and happiness, theories of which overlap with resiliency building.

Sound exciting? Give us a call today and let us know how we can help you, your staff, and your clients.