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Vicarious Trauma vs. Compassion Fatigue

Vicarious Trauma (VT) is used to describe the experience of people in the helping profession who work with someone who has experienced something traumatic. Doctors, nurses, surgeons, lawyers, EMS, law enforcement, therapists, and crisis counselors, learn how to handle this kind of indirect trauma. They have specific training and tools to cope and care for themselves. During this pandemic, essential workers are dealing with the emotional stress related to the pandemic.


There are other jobs, where this kind of response to trauma is not something that people are prepared for. Other essential workers who don't have the ability to work from home are now experiencing a new kind of stress in their work environment. Grocery store employees, postal service employees, UPS, FedEx, teachers, stylists, servers, and other employees may experience Vicarious Trauma too. Anger, sadness, and grief can happen when we witness indirect trauma or stress. Overtime, repeated exposure to this kind of trauma can have a negative effect of your mental health and your ability to function.


We refer to Compassion Fatigue (CP) as the emotional or physical fatigue from caring for others without taking the time to care for ourselves. This is different from Vicarious Trauma because trauma is usually not involved, however it is possible to experience both VT and CP. We can't continue to care for others' if we don't refuel. We end up feeling depleted, run down, and out of steam. The extra stress that people in different work environments are carrying is happening across many professions. We feel isolated, depressed, fatigue, lack of motivation, and hopeless.


It is important to focus on your self-care. Listen to music, go for a walk, do yoga, and meditate. Enjoy hobbies while maintaining social distance. Limit the amount of time you spend reading news or social media, which can be stressful and traumatic. It is beneficial to find more balance and avoid the emotional burnout. Consider if you may be experiencing Vicarious Trauma or Compassion Fatigue and look for ways to can take care of yourself this week.