Vicarious Trauma (VT): History & Research (2)

Important Keys of VA:

Headington Institute came up with several vital keys in explaining VA. The Headington Institute provides psychological and spiritual support to humanitarian aid and disaster relief personnel worldwide. The Institute site on the Internet is, and anyone interested can get more information on the site. 

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The Keys are:

  1. Vicarious trauma is an ongoing process of change over time that results from witnessing or hearing about other people’s suffering and needs.Vicarious trauma happens because you care – because you empathize with people who are hurting. Empathy is the ability to identify with another person, to understand and feel another person’s pain and joy.


  1. When you identify with the pain of people who have endured terrible things, you bring their grief, fear, anger, and despair into your awareness and experience. Many humanitarian workers are very committed to their work and profoundly take this responsibility. It is not necessarily a bad thing! However, feeling committed and responsible can contribute to the process of vicarious trauma. It can lead to very high (and sometimes unrealistic) expectations of yourself and others and for the results you want to see from your work. For example, you may take it personally when your work or your organization’s work doesn’t impact what you want. Ironically, your sense of commitment and responsibility can eventually contribute to you feeling burdened, overwhelmed, and hopeless in the face of great need and suffering. It can also lead you to extend yourself beyond what is reasonable for your well-being or the best long-term interests of beneficiaries.


  1. Your commitment and sense of responsibility can lead to high expectations and eventually contribute to your feeling burdened, overwhelmed, and perhaps hopeless. A key component of vicarious trauma is changing spirituality. Not all of the spiritual changes that come from humanitarian work are negative! Many humanitarian workers feel they have grown and matured due to things they have seen and experienced. You may feel you gain a broader and more balanced perspective on life and end up better able to understand and empathize with others.


  1. A key component of vicarious trauma is changing in spirituality. Vicarious trauma can profoundly impact the way you see the world and your most profound sense of meaning and hope.Simply understanding vicarious trauma is a significant first step, and it will help you decide what you need to prevent best and address your vicarious trauma. Learning to be aware of and address vicarious trauma in an ongoing manner goes a long way toward making sure you don’t burn out or feel crushed by vicarious trauma or unintentionally harm others because of its effects.


  1. With appropriate tools, humanitarian workers and organizations can better understand, prevent, and address VT. Being beaten down by VT isn’t inevitable, but constantly addressing it.


  1. Anything that gets in the way of fulfilling your responsibility or commitment to help those affected by disaster or violence can contribute to your vicarious trauma.


  1. VT may be more problematic for people who tend to avoid problems or complicated feelings, blame others for their difficulties, or withdraw from others when things get complicated.

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