Secondary Trauma

Social workers, counselors, and educators are just some of the many individuals who spend their careers in service to others. By nature of their work, many helping professionals are exposed to painful, difficult stories and experiences from the people they serve. Secondary trauma has become an “occupational hazard” among helping professionals that is leading to increased burnout. Below are some signs you may be experiencing a secondary traumatic response.

1. Symptoms of PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs after experiencing a life-threatening event. While secondary trauma includes indirect exposure to a traumatic event, symptoms such as physiological arousal, avoidance of trauma reminders, and reexperiencing the trauma can still occur.

2. Compassion fatigue. Compassion for those who are hurting typically comes readily to those who are in helping professions. Witnessing multiple traumatic stories and experiences throughout your career can be emotionally overwhelming. In order to cope, some may begin to “shut off” their well of compassion for others—not because they don’t care, but because caring so much has started to cost them their own well-being.

3. Withdrawing from relationships. When trauma is interpersonal in nature, it affects relationships with the people in our lives. Withdrawing from the most important relationships may be protective in some ways, especially if you work with children who have suffered abuse.

If you are in a helping profession and experiencing any of these signs, it is important to know that you are not alone. These signs can also happen on a continuum, so it may be helpful to keep an eye out for subtle changes in your thoughts, behaviors, or relationships that may reflect some secondary trauma.

Self-care has become a buzzword lately, but it’s importance cannot be overstated enough. Helping professionals must take care of themselves if they are able to be of service to others. Simply routines like exercise, getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, and spending time with friends and family can go a long way in preventing burnout. If you are struggling with secondary trauma and are in Chicagoland area, feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000.

Written by Kathryn

2021 Graduate Intern


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