Vicarious Trauma: Managing the Inevitable
Rape and domestic violence services Australia
The term ‘vicarious trauma’ is often associated with the ‘cost of caring’ for others. It can be defined as the impact on professionals from engaging empathically with a client who has experienced a traumatic experience. This can include workers in ‘helping professions’ such as Disaster & Emergency Services, Police, Health, Social Work and Counselling.
Vicarious trauma can have deleterious, cumulative and prolonged effects on individual’s mental and physical well-being and can seriously undermine their ability to work in a role that includes responding to traumatised clients. It presents a serious work, health and safety risk for employers, and can produce significant human and financial costs in the following areas: employee physical and mental wellbeing, work performance, unplanned absences, attrition rates, and compensation claims, and workplace culture.
Vicarious trauma is seen to be an inevitable consequence of repeated exposure to traumatic material. The effects of vicarious trauma can be however ameliorated if they are made conscious and addressed proactively by organisations and individuals. There are a range of strategies that organisations adopt to manage vicarious trauma effectively.
Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia (R&DVSA) provide 24/7 telephone counselling services for anyone in Australia who has experienced or is at risk of sexual violence, family or domestic violence, and their non offending supporters. As such our staff work with trauma for a large part of their roles. For this reason, R&DVSA have developed a Vicarious Trauma Management Program in order to manage vicarious trauma. This program received the 2007 WorkCover New South Wales award for ‘The Best Solution to an Identified Occupational Health and Safety Issue.’ The program involves: education; reducing risk; monitoring symptoms; early intervention for symptoms; and, offsetting symptoms (self care).
R&DVSA found that the cost of managing vicarious trauma is less than not managing it. Through implementation of the Vicarious Trauma Management Program, the organisation was able to achieve a greater than 50% reduction in unplanned absence from work, elimination of workers compensation claims arising from vicarious trauma, and annual savings of nearly $100,000.
This article was provided by the Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia.