If you are in a helping profession, such as police work, firefighting, ministry work, or if you work in a school setting, health care field or in behavioral health, you may be at risk for developing symptoms of secondary trauma. Also, if you are a parent of a child who has experienced trauma, if you have adopted a child, or care for a child in the foster system, you too may experience traumatic stress.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines secondary traumatic stress as, “The emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.”
What are the symptoms of secondary trauma?
- Symptoms include emotional and physical distress, including fatigue, anxiety, or depression.
- You can develop a sense of cynicism and feel ineffective against the magnitude of suffering in this world.
- Or you may feel angry and unable to empathize with others. You may turn to alcohol or other substances to wind down and escape.
- Furthermore, you may experience your own symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
I have noticed that many people in helping professions feel that they should be able to handle the stress of their work. Afterall, we are used to having the answers and providing resources. However, most of us are unaware of the toll our work is taking on us. Although our lives are very busy, If we don’t care for our own mental health, we may become disillusioned, burned out, and unable to continue with the work that we want to do.
As service providers or parents of trauma survivors, how can we manage the cumulative trauma that we absorb? I would like to offer the concept of trauma stewardship by Lipsky and Burk. They suggest “finding a way to bear witness to trauma without surrendering your ability to live fully.” This includes talking through and processing your emotions, as well as finding healthy strategies to help you cope with the trauma burden.
Have you experienced symptoms of secondary trauma? My hope for you is that you can take some time to care for your own emotional health. Make this a priority and give me a call today.
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