Vicarious trauma, also known as second victim experience, occurs when the thinking or beliefs about the world change as a result of repeated exposure to trauma. First responders and frontliners of the COVID-19 pandemic are especially susceptible to vicarious trauma. Many first responders and front liners are doing all they can to assist those in need, and in some cases, being forced to make difficult life and death decisions they never thought they’d have to make.
Anyone in a helping profession – counselors, therapists, rescue workers, doctors, nurses, and anyone who has a significant relationship with a survivor of trauma – can be affected by vicarious trauma. Identifying vicarious trauma is the first step in treating it. Symptoms of vicarious trauma are wide ranging, but can include lasting feelings of grief, anxiety, or sadness, changes in mood, alcohol or substance abuse, headaches, heartburn, difficulty concentrating, cynicism, loss of hope, and feeling disconnected from others.
Nicole LeBlond, mental health counselor and onsite EAP provider for eni, outlines some steps leadership can take to help mitigate the impact of vicarious trauma on their staffs.
- Maintain awareness
- Maintain an overall awareness of your staff and know what’s going on within the department that could cause vicarious trauma. Keep an eye out for signs of vicarious trauma.
- Easy access
- Make access to critical resources as easy as possible. Remove any and all roadblocks and offer assistance when possible.
- Know your limits
- Keep an eye on your own wellbeing. Don’t burn yourself out with unaddressed vicarious trauma.
- Understand the impact
- Do your best to understand the impact of the work being performed by staff, including first time exposure versus cumulative exposure.
- Lead by example
- Work a reasonable pace. Take allocated leave time. Openly value things and people outside of work.
- Don’t stigmatize
- Language and actions can be stigmatizing. Don’t do or say things that would stigmatize those who are experiencing difficulties.
Repeated exposure to trauma can have far-reaching effects. It is estimated that nearly half of health care providers could experience vicarious trauma at least once in their career. Additionally, untreated second victim experiences can lead to the subsequent comprise of the health and safety of patients.
One way to manage the impact of vicarious trauma is using an employee assistance program – EAP. eni’s NexGen EAP includes second victim support services that are the culmination of 37 years of experience in helping support those on the front lines of any traumatic event.
NexGen EAP provides 24/7/365 immediate access to highly credentialed and licensed counselors who are HIPPA compliant and maintain 100% confidentiality. Face-to-face, over the phone, or via teleconference, eni’s counselors are trained to detect vicarious trauma and provide therapeutically appropriate, in the moment care. For those needing ongoing care, our counselors can connect those impacted by vicarious trauma with providers in our proprietary network.