Also referred to as Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), Vicarious Trauma (VT) is the indirect trauma that can occur when a person is exposed to difficult or disturbing images or hears a detailed traumatic story from another person. Learning to recognize the warning signs of vicarious trauma can help improve awareness of your levels of emotional and physical depletion.
How Vicarious Trauma Occurs
Vicarious traumatization was coined by Pearlman & Saakvitne and trauma specialists Beth Stamm and Charles Figley who were looking to understand why professionals who work in high-stress and trauma-exposed fields seemed to exhibit symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) without having necessarily been exposed to direct trauma themselves.
Research in the field of VT suggests that there are particular vulnerability factors that can increase an individual’s likelihood of being negatively impacted by their line of work. For example, child abuse investigators, prosecutors, judges, therapists, health care professionals, and animal shelter workers are the most susceptible to vicarious trauma.
Such people may end up developing serious negative consequences as a result of VT exposure later on in life. Learning some stress-reduction techniques and trauma-informed practices from a well-trained professional who is familiar with VT can help mitigate trauma risk.