Vicarious trauma, also known as secondary trauma, can be described as indirect exposure to a traumatic event through first-hand account or narrative or imagery of that event. People in the helping professions - counselors, therapists, rescue workers, police officers, doctors, and lawyers—may be at risk of vicarious traumatization.
Looking back and seeing myself ten years ago, working for a criminal police in the field of crimes against children (mostly child´s sexual abuse with frequent exposure to the child abuse imagery), and in the same time working on my dissertation focusing on dating violence, I can see now, how I lived through the indirect exposure to a traumatic events (and also what was helpful for me and what less …which I will get to later on).
Other group of people potentially prone to vicarious traumatization are those who has a significant relationship with a survivor of trauma. They may also come to experience secondary traumatization. Many of us can see how our world is shaken when our friend of family member goes through some traumatizing event...
Signs and symptoms of vicarious trauma include the same symptoms as PTSD such as flashbacks, feelings of isolation and alienation and depression as well as increased cynicism, sense of hopeless and helplessness and changes in world view and identity.
How was I experiencing the indirect exposure of traumatization? Most of the time I had a sense that I can never do enough. The amount of work and lack of human and financial resources dedicated to the field of child sexual abuse in the national police was overwhelming. Many times the case of rescuing a child from the perpetrator was also a reminder of the thousands of other children who´s case is still unsolved, who are still living in a reality of abuse and also of those whose abuse wasn´t even recognized yet. And when I tried to speak to my bosses about the lack of resources in this area and I met just their denial, it resulted very much in the feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and unfairness. And maybe also a bit guilty for wanting or taking some time out.
These feelings were also fed by the awareness that I´m part of the repressive mechanism - even if case was closed by incarcerating the perpetrator, it didn’t feel right. The family was usually shattered and the child placed to the foster facility, which I knew was not the best solution for that child. Many times, my main motivation for my work was feeling of injustice and also an anger - towards the perpetrators, but also towards the system. Sometimes I was eating my lunch with such a hurry and in my thoughts still with a case that I didn´t care too much what I was eating. My consumption of coffee increased. I was tired and felt tight trapezius and a back pain and I paid a toll for the nightshifts by having disturbed sleep. I was also aware, I´m becoming a bit insensitive. I had to prioritize a lot which cases I´ll give my attention and I really didn´t like the fact that I´m losing my empathy - sometimes I saw less extreme experiences of child abuse as not that serious and therefore less deserving my time and effort. Sometimes I felt guilty for that. Few times towards the end of my police officer era I caught myself losing the proportions and coming to hypervigilance in some moments. For example, I was going on the tram and I was seeing some father hugging his daughter and immediately I had a feeling of alarm in my system. Or I saw photos of my friend´s children naked in a garden swimming pool and I had flashbacks of some of the numerous child abuse pictures I was dealing with in the work. I witnessed some of my colleagues becoming cynical as a coping mechanism and also really weary and I knew for sure it is time for change.
The Blue Knot Foundation (NGO expert in complex trauma) highlights that activities which foster connection to self and a healthy life balance are important in decreasing the impacts of vicarious trauma along with a focus on self-care and self-nurturing.
Physical activities such as yoga provide opportunities for participants to connect with their bodies in a safe environment, to explore the possibility of using their body as a resource and potentially to nurture a compassionate relationship with one’s self and one’s body.
Yes, I remember what was keeping me sane was: supportive relationships, my yoga and meditation practice and time spent in the nature.
Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is an evidence-based, adjunctive treatment to therapy for survivors of trauma developed at the Trauma Center in Boston, USA.
TCTSY can also provide support for caregivers, service providers, and others who have secondary trauma from close or ongoing contact with the trauma of others. This kind of yoga aims to build participants’ experiences of empowerment, agency and control and cultivate a more positive relationship to one’s body.
TCTSY offers participants an opportunity to (re)connect with their bodies, explore using their body as a resource and address vicarious traumatisation symptoms through:
increasing feelings of empowerment
strengthening their relationship to themselves and others
supporting them to remain in the present moment
The upcoming week Center for Trauma and Embodiment at JRI organizes a free online Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga sessions for everyone providing services to refugees and asylum seekers. I feel it is important to acknowledge the staff and volunteers all around the world who work with refugee populations and their tireless service...If you one of them, or you want to try some TCTSY online, you are invited. Check the link bellow and join me or other TCTSY facilitators online next week (September 23 - September 27, 2019)
The Blue Knot Foundation: https://www.blueknot.org.au/Workers-Practitioners/For-Health-Professionals/Resources-for-Health-Professionals/Vicarious-Traumatisation
Camino for Social Change: https://www.caminoforsocialchange.com/yoga-for-service-providers