I write regularly about vicarious traumatization. Some of my previous posts on this subject are:

What Do We Mean By Vicarious Transformation?

Responding to VT at Three Levels: The Personal, The Agency and Through Transformation

VT and Culture

Are You Doing This Essential Thing to Maintain Hope and Energy in Your Staff?

One of the Best Books about the Effects of our Work (Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk)

And my course Making It Real! Implementing Trauma-Informed Care in Child Serving Settings offers teams more depth and more practical strategies to explore this subject. Learn more here.


Vicarious Traumatization refers to the negative changes in the helper as a result of emphatically engaging with and feeling responsible for traumatized clients (Risking Connection ©).
Recently I was honored to learn from Françoise Mathieu of TEND. She points out that while vicarious traumatization is an essential and important aspect of the workplace stress that we experience, it is not the only component. She suggests several other sources of stress: (Adapted from The Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu (Routledge 2012)
Burnout– physical and emotional exhaustion caused by low job satisfaction, feeling powerless and overwhelmed. “The chronicity, acuity and complexity that is beyond the capacity of the service provider. (Beth Stamm) Also influenced by physical conditions of job, workload and amount of hours worked

Moral Distress: When policies or routines conflict with beliefs about patient care. When we are told to do things that we fundamentally disagree with or to which we are morally opposed.

Primary trauma: direct trauma personal and at work

Secondary Trauma: exposure to trauma of others

Compassion Fatigue: profound emotional and physical erosion that takes place when we are unable to refuel and regenerate

Vicarious trauma: transformation of our world view due to exposure to trauma

Traumatic Grief and Loss: the losses we suffer within our work

Systems Failure- discouragement about inadequacy and injustice of caring system; also dismay about own workplace in areas such as fairness, ethics, excellence of work

I was particularly struck by the concepts of moral distress and system failure as being important contributers to our stress. How many times do we have to discharge someone before she is ready, to a place that we suspect is not safe? How often are we unable to get our clients the services they really need? These daily sources of anguish take their toll on our hearts.
Francoise points out that a person’s experience of stress is a combination of factors from areas:

Nature of the work: control over schedule, healthy work place, support, supervision, caseloads, physical conditions, sense of caring, ethic and fairness, relationships with colleagues
Nature of the clients: See improvement, match worker/client, training, balance/variety, enjoyment, chronicity, type of symptoms
Nature of the helper themselves: previous trauma, current support system, healthy practices, hobbies and interests, self-awarenes

So what can we do about all this? Talk about it. Read this article together with your team and discuss experiences of each of the types of stress. Just identifying and validating and sharing these feelings offers a tremendous relief.

Of course we can also work and advocate when possible to make the system better and more responsive to our client’s needs…Implementing trauma-informed care is one way of doing this.

And click here for a worksheet with other ideas for organizational responses to workplace stress.

Let me know in comment below what your experience has been and what your organization does to help employees with these issues.

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