Preventing vicarious trauma: What counselors should know when working with trauma survivors

Counselors in all settings work with clients who are survivors of trauma. Vicarious trauma, or counselors developing trauma reactions secondary to exposure to clients' traumatic experiences, is not uncommon. The purpose of this article is to describe vicarious trauma and summarize the recent research literature related to this construct. The Constructivist Self-Development Theory (CSDT) is applied to vicarious trauma, and the implications CSDT has for counselors in preventing and managing vicarious trauma are explored.
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Journal of Counseling Development
This article offers a recent review of the literature on the impact of vicarious trauma (VT) with an emphasis on prevention. VT is defined as a secondary trauma response resulting from contact with trauma survivors' experiences. Symptoms include disruptions in cognitive schemas, memory systems, and belief systems. Two similar conditions, burnout and countertransference, are compared and contrasted to VT. As a unique condition, VT is believed to occur only among counselors of trauma survivors. The symptoms are directly related to clients' trauma experiences, onset of symptoms is abrupt, and changes that occur involve core aspects of the counselor's self. Consequently, VT can have significantly detrimental effects on a counselor's personal and professional life. The Constructivist Self-Development Theory (CSDT) is presented as a model for VT intervention. CSDT states that five basic components of the self (frame of reference, self-capacities, ego resources, psychological needs, and cognitive schemas, memory, and perception) affect one's construction of reality. Reducing caseload, increasing peer supervision, increasing agency responsibility, providing additional education and training, enhancing personal coping mechanisms, and developing a sense of spirituality are offered as examples for self-care. By regularly incorporating the five component areas into personal and professional self-care guidelines, counselors can not only reduce the harmful effects of VT but develop useful support mechanisms as well.
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Advocate Self Care, Rape Crisis Centers
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