High-Trauma Professionals

Vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue, and burnout are all forms of stress that may affect those in “helping” professions because their work is directly involved to the exposure of other’s trauma. High-trauma professionals who experience these stressors are often too focused on helping others that they forget to seek the help they themselves need.

Continuous exposure to these events causes similar symptoms as the victims they work with. Untreated, vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress will eventually lead to compassion fatigue or burnout. High-trauma professionals are more vulnerable to other negative health outcomes such as depression, sleep deprivation, harmful substance use, and thoughts of suicide—unfortunate consequences that are unable to be left at work.

It’s crucial for these professionals to be able to recognize the signs of trauma, in themselves and other colleagues, and find healthy ways to respond, cope, and recover from these stressors.

What’s in the Terms? 

Resiliency is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth. Interested in learning more about resiliency and the effects trauma has on our bodies? Watch the First Responders Resiliency Training below.

Vicarious Trauma describes the emotional residue of exposure from working with people experiencing trauma. As these professionals are hearing their trauma stories, they become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured. Ultimately leading to profound negative changes in our worldview.

Secondary Traumatic Stress is the result of being a witness to a traumatic event or series of traumatic events, which can lead to Post-traumatic stress-like symptoms.

Compassion Fatigue refers to the deep emotional and physical wearing down that takes place when helping professionals are unable to refuel and renew. Ignoring this will eventually lead to burnout.

Burnout happens over time, and is the state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion due to excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout can lead to substance abuse, depression, suicidal ideation and the loss of highly qualified professionals.

Take the Next Step

You’re not alone. Tools, information, and support are available for people living with and affected by trauma. For those living with trauma, nothing is more important than learning how to strengthen your ability to manage stress, recover from trauma, and ask for and accept help. Start by exploring the resources below:

What can I do to help myself? 

  • Assess your well-being
    • What’s your ACE score?
      • ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is an assessment that indicates your risk for developing chronic conditions; however, it is uniquely tied with traumatic stress too. The higher your ACE score the more susceptible you are to trauma. What is your ACE score?
    • Wellbeing Assessment
      • A quick 13 question assessment that is designed to help you determine where you are in each aspect of wellbeing and point to areas where you might want to make changes.
    • Professional Quality of Life Assessment
      • When you help people you have direct contact with their lives. As you may have found, your compassion for those you help can affect you in positive and negative ways. PROQOL is a 30-item questionnaire that helps you gauge if you are in compassion satisfaction, burnout, or experience secondary traumatic stress due to your experiences.
  • Build Resilience to Decrease Stress
    • How to Build Resilience
      • A brief explanation of what resilience is, the importance building resilience, and ways you can build it to create a healthier and less stressful life.
  • Self-Care Strategies & Resources
    • Self-Care Toolkit
      • When faced with challenges, we can use either positive coping strategies or negative coping strategies. A step-by-step guide on creating a self-care plan that will help you practice positive coping strategies.
  • Training
    • First Responders Virtual Resiliency Training
      • An excellent 4-hour long virtual resiliency training provided by Resiliency First Inc. The program is devoted to mitigating the rising crisis of Post Traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSI) in first responders nationwide. The instructors address the psychological, physical, neurological, emotional and relational elements of trauma with a comprehensive and holistic approach.

Get Help Now

Employers cannot guarantee that employees will never be exposed to trauma in the workplace. However, they can take action to help prevent the most debilitating effects of exposure to trauma by adequately preparing employees. Preparation includes both the ability to respond in the moment and access to the necessary coping strategies and social support after the incident.

Which profession are you?

Know the Risk Factors and Signs

When the stress of helping others during a crisis builds up, it can express itself in many different ways. Get to know the symptoms of secondary trauma and burnout, a state of exhaustion that can affect police officers, firefighters, dispatchers, emergency healthcare providers, and anyone on the front lines. Once you’ve learned what to watch out for, make sure you know how to get help for yourself or a colleague in need.

  • Know the Signs
  • Find Support
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    Signs of burnout include:

    Sadness, depression, or apathy.
    Irritability, blaming others, and getting easily frustrated.
    Self-isolation or detachment.
    Poor hygiene and self-care.
    Fatigue or exhaustion.
    Feeling overwhelmed.
    Feeling like a failure, personally or professionally.
    Needing alcohol or other drugs to cope.

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    Sings of secondary trauma include:

    The feeling that others’ traumatic experiences are your own.
    Excessive fear or worry that something bad may happen.
    Feeling hyper aware or “on guard” at all times.
    Recurring thoughts about traumatic incidents.
    Elevated breathing, heartbeats, and blood pressure.
    Changes in your normal sleep or eating patterns.

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    National Disaster Distress Helpline

    The Disaster Distress Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

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    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to speak with a trained crisis counselor.

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    Crisis Text Line

    The Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support via text message. Text "Hello" to 741741 to reach a trained crisis counselor.

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    South Dakota Resource Hotline

    The South Dakota Resource Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—for free, confidential support, whether you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one’s substance use. Trained specialists are able to answer all kinds of questions and can help you get started on your path to recovery by providing immediate assistance so you can connect with services in your area. And, they can support you all along the way to sobriety. Call 1-800-920-4343 or text ONMETH to 898211 for immediate support.

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    211 is an information, referral, and crisis helpline that provides resource information on non-profit, social service, and government programs, along with providing crisis intervention services. When you dial 2-1-1, you talk to real people trained to help and connect you to the right resources, organizations, or people. 211 answers calls 24/7. Call 211 or text your five-digit zip code to 898211 to connect.

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    All Clear Foundation

    Chat, text, or call. Connect with fellow First Responders, get crisis support or explore your own wellness here. https://allclearfoundation.org/resources/