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

The ABC’s: Three important themes

There are three important themes to consider when considering a long-term action plan to help us address vicarious Trauma: awareness, balanceand connection

  1. Awareness:

Awareness can help you address vicarious Trauma in at least two ways. First, it can help you identify and understand your reactions. Second, the practice of awareness itself can also be good for helping you address vicarious Trauma. If you can stay more aware in this sense (feeling present and connected) while working, vicarious Trauma may be less likely to develop. This type of awareness can help you take in pain around you and observe as it moves through your mind and body, touching you without paralyzing you. It is a lot easier said than done. The simple act of being more aware of your actions and reactions may help your experiences of your own and others’ pain feel more manageable.

  1. Balance:

Balance is essential in these two core areas:

  • Balancing your personal needs with the demands of your work; and
  • Balancing demanding work with less challenging work.

Work-life balance:

It would help if you took a break (daily, weekly, monthly, and annually) to balance the rest of your life with your work. Among other things, this means:

  1. Making sure each workday includes breaks for meals and physical activity or rest (depending on what you’re taking a break from); and
  2. Take time away from work for relaxation, friends, family, spiritual renewal, and professional development. In particular, it’s crucial to spend time with people whom you don’t have to take care of or rescue. There are times when this is not possible. Some days, you are a desperate person, yet you have to take care of others. That can happen occasionally, but it becomes dangerous when it’s chronic – when you cannot find a balance between caring for others and being cared for.

Balance on the Job:

Balance is not just about balancing work with other essential aspects of your life; it is also about finding a balance within work that will allow you to work sustainably. Humanitarian work is rarely a sprint, and it is often a marathon, and you should be thinking about working now in ways that help make sure you can still be doing this same work two years from now if you want to. It means, for example, stopping work after a reasonable number of hours, even in disaster response situations. It can be very challenging when lots of people need help. But remember that research suggests that exhausted workers can do more harm than good because of the mistakes they often make. It also means thinking ahead whenever you can to balance your more and less challenging tasks. Of course, such planning is not always possible. But to the extent that you can plan your workdays and weeks according to the rhythm that works best for you, you will work more effectively and with less emotional exhaustion and, ultimately, vicarious Trauma.


The final theme is the connection with other people and our spiritual selves. Social support – connecting meaningfully with people you like and care about – is good for just about everything related to physical and mental health. The best social support involves more than just casual connections with the people around you; it requires connecting with personal and professional communities. A community is something exceptional. A true community is a group of people who know each other, share experiences and values and reach out to one another in good times or in times of need or distress. Families, clubs, professional bodies, and faith groups, for example, can all be communities. Different communities often provide different types of support, so belonging to more than one community can be valuable.

Spiritual connection

Being connected goes beyond our relationships with other people. It is also essential to feel connected to whatever it is that nurtures or anchors you – be that God, faith, nature, humanity, or another source of meaning and purpose. It is vital for humanitarian workers because this core sense of spiritual connection can help prevent and fight the loss of meaning and hope at the heart of vicarious Trauma. The key to transforming vicarious Trauma is to find one’s path to spiritual renewal – to connect with a sense of awe, joy, wonder, purpose, and hope – and revisit it regularly and frequently.

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