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Our Partners Reconnect Health and Wellbeing

Vicarious Trauma – Barriers to Burnout by Sheree Bootes

Life is filled with adversities. It is also known that exposure to such dangers can lead to “troubling memories, arousal, and avoidance”. Yet the notion that these adverse events can affect an individual psychologically, biologically and socially has only being recognised in psychiatry and psychology in the last few decades.

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Often, trauma is commonly associated with negative events whether they be natural disasters or when a person has been harmfully inflicted by another person.

The person’s response to the event must involve intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Trauma does not only refer to the event but also considers the person’s response to the traumatic event.

The role of supporting individuals who have been affected by a traumatic event in their life can be challenging in countless ways. Judith Herman (1998) suggests trauma is contagious, and persons working with individuals living with Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) can at times be emotionally affected.

The effects of working with trauma on professionals is well researched and has become more evident in contemporary professional education and training, as well as supervision.

Terms such as vicarious trauma, empathic stress, and compassion fatigue are reminders of the psychological harm professionals can experience when working with trauma (Hernandez et. al. 2010, p.68). Maintaining a boundary between the client’s pain and oneself is important. Whilst allowing a client to express their pain can be helpful, it is also important to maintain your own identity in a support role to avoid becoming a victim yourself.

Support Workers may experience various physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural symptoms when responding to a traumatic incident or working with individuals diagnosed with PTSD. Your organisation can support by providing regular supervision, debrief support and access to counselling through the organisations employee assistance program (EAP). There is the strong risk of workers being affected if these support systems are not in place.

Professional burnout and fatigue is real and can be avoided by many preventive measures, such as attending trauma informed training or workshops in support of developing your skills and knowledge. More importantly good self-care practices are essential and accessing social support outside of your work role effectively reduces professionals stress levels and fatigue.

Did you know that you can access free counselling for up to 3 sessions?  Call Sheree to make an appointment on 9848 2977 or 0400 696 456.

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Sheree Bootes at Reconnect Health and Wellbeing is an Accredited Psychotherapist and an Accredited Social Worker. Sheree consults in both Albany at the Empire Building, 150-152 Stirling Tce and Denmark at 75 Inlet Drive.

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