Research on Vicarious Trauma (VT) sheds light on the causes of compassion fatigue and the societal and organizational norms that can either worsen or mitigate its impact. Since the early ’90s, the understanding of the root causes of VT has evolved considerably. It also created an awareness of the signs of its impact and strategies to prevent or manage it. One of the life crucible experiences is “Vicarious Trauma” or “Vicarious Traumatisation,” as some might call it.
Before the advent of the term “Vicarious Trauma” and even after it was introduced, many other conditions described by psychologists and psychiatrists had similar causes and outward symptoms. VA is a disease of gender, and my background and pedigree in science have been beneficial in my research of VA and its causes, symptoms, and how one can mitigate the impact of VA. With increased awareness of the root causes of VA, professionals who work with suffering and crisis have tried to avoid its impact. Judith Herman explains the almost inevitable impact of VT:
The therapist should expect to lose balance from time to time with traumatized individuals and needs a support system that includes a regular forum for reviewing their clinical work. The therapist must attend to the balance in their own professional and personal life and attend to personal needs.
Defining Vicarious Trauma:
One can describe Vicarious Trauma as the negative changes that happen to humanitarian workers over time as they witness other people’s suffering and need. These negative changes are the cost of caring for and caring about others who have been hurt. Therefore, we could define vicarious trauma this way: Vicarious trauma is the process of change that happens because you care about other people who have been hurt and feel committed or responsible for helping them. Over time this process can change your psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being.
VT is the cumulative effect of contact with survivors of violence, disaster, or struggling people. It happens to you over time as you witness cruelty and loss and hear distressing stories, day after day and year after year. The experiences of vicarious trauma are continuously being influenced by life experiences (both those choices and those that happen during professional and personal lives.