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Recognizing and Preventing Secondary Trauma

1 Mar. 2017 Posted by aadams

Katie Moser, FEI Network Operations Specialist

Secondary trauma might not be a term many are familiar with. When you hear it, you might ask: Who is at risk? What are the signs? Why should I be concerned about it?

Secondary trauma is referred to as the “stress that results from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” There are many professions at risk of experiencing secondary trauma including, but not limited to, mental health counselors, social workers, prison guards, hospice care workers, police officers and first responders.

Responding to or hearing about traumatic events day in and day out can take a toll on an individual, both mentally and physically. If you are in a profession where risk of secondary trauma is present, please be aware of these signs and symptoms:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sadness and/or anger
  • Poor concentration
  • Detachment
  • Fearfulness and/or shame
  • Physical illness
  • Absenteeism

Organizations should also be conscious of the signs and symptoms of secondary trauma and its impact on employees. If employees are stressed and experiencing secondary trauma in their daily work, productivity could suffer and the likelihood of turnover is greater.

Turnover within an organization causes a decrease in staff morale and creates more work for remaining employees, which in turn increases stress and anxiety throughout the workforce. Turnover also has a depleting effect on company time and the budget needed to hire new employees for vacated positions.

So what can be done to prevent secondary trauma? Since professions like law enforcement and mental health counseling will always exist, learning how to cope with secondary trauma is key, starting with the following:

  • Make self-care a priority. Maintain a healthy diet, and get adequate sleep and exercise.
  • Seek support from a counselor, family or friends if the weight of your work if affecting you.
  • Consider further training on trauma and stress reduction. Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Strive for a healthy balance between life and work.

Remember: You must take care of yourself before you’re able to care for others!


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