As a leader, coach or counsellor you spend your day listening to the traumatic incidents, challenges, and stories that your clients and colleagues share with you on a daily basis. You amplify this with watching graphic movies and TV shows – often late in the night – at the end of the workday. These shows are often explicit in terms of violence, hatred and crime. What happens to the feelings that are generated from this continual barrage of traumatic information? Where do these stories go at the end of one’s day?
NOWHERE! It stays bottled within You and can lead to Vicarious Traumatization (VT). This happens when stories and incidents that we hear from our clients or from our workplace have the same impact on us through transfer even though we do not experience the incident ourselves. As we read about people losing jobs, getting bullied or humiliated at work, read in the news of rape and molestation, watch on TV how a murder has taken place, hear of abuse of children, and then hear of incidents in our workplace, neighbourhood, or a client’s life – all of a sudden, we start feeling unsafe, threatened, insecure, on-guard all the time. This is the cumulative impact of being exposed to traumatic data in our work and life; it has the same effects on us even though we do not experience it directly.
Don’t think it’s not happening to you or won’t happen. It’s only a question of degree and when. And, as a leader or coach / counselor, VT happens to us as a consequence of knowing, caring, and facing the reality of trauma continually. We have nightmares about these events, or recurring and intrusive thoughts. We feel irritable, chronic tension, find it hard to sleep, find it hard to concentrate and focus. The results? We can become increasingly numb to pain and suffering, get cynical, feel sad and angry at the unfairness in the world, get overwhelmed, tune out…
The first step is to understand and realise that, as helpers, VT is something all of us can and will go through. Use self-awareness to track the symptoms that you might be going through right now. Focus on bringing in the most important stakeholder onto your care radar – yourself; start a self-care plan. Find a supportive network, partner, coach or coaching supervisor to help you minimize / manage the impact of VT.
If you care about your work and others – you don’t really have a choice; start caring about yourself too!
We’d be happy to work with you if you think you are at on the edge or in the depths of compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma. Email us on email@example.com. More information on http://www.thewellnesstrust.com.
Mathieu, F. (2012). The compassion fatigue workbook: Creative tools for transforming compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization. New York: Routledge.
Figley, C. R. (2002). Introduction. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), Treating compassion fatigue. New York: Brunner-Routledge.