Trauma-Informed Organization: Vicarious Trauma

Posted on August 24, 2022

Trauma-Informed Organization: Vicarious Trauma

Jane Doe, a dedicated care provider, worked closely with individuals who were victims of daily violence, poverty and abuse. Jane did not show symptoms of stress but noticed her threshold for what was shocking or tragic had all but disappeared. Her co-workers noticed, too, and encouraged Jane to take a break. After some time away, Jane realized the impact of the vicarious trauma she experienced.

The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) defines vicarious trauma as work-related trauma exposure occurring from experiences such as listening to clients recount their victimization, looking at videos of exploited children, reviewing case files, and hearing about or responding to the aftermath of violence and other traumatic events day after day. The result: negative changes in the worker’s view of self, others and the world–that is, a change in the person’s world view. One can become cynical or fearful, more appreciative of what one has—or all three.

To explain, the OVC offers a Vicarious Trauma Model:

vicarious trauma


The best first step is preventing vicarious trauma. Make self-care a priority by scheduling time for your needs. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Personal and professional support are major protective factors. The connections can reduce feelings of isolation. Ask therapists or co-workers for recommendations as well.

Symptoms of vicarious trauma

  • Emotional: persistent feelings of anxiety, grief, sadness, irritability, anger; easily distracted, feeling unsafe.
  • Physiological: increased headaches, heartburn, ulcers.
  • Behavioral: increase in substance use/abuse, changes in sleeping and eating habits, risky behaviors, avoiding, decreased participation in activities that were once enjoyable.
  • Cognitive: increased cynicism and negativity, inability to concentrate and make decisions, memory issues.
  • Spiritual: loss of hope or sense of purpose, feeling disconnected from others, feeling unworthy or undeserving of love.


Screening is a secondary prevention strategy. Standardized screening measures (with links) include:

Suggestions for co-workers

As co-workers, you are in a unique position to support, care for and hold one another accountable.

  • Reach out and talk to the person individually.
  • Encourage the individual to attend to the basics–sleep, healthy diet, exercise, and encourage connection with family, friends and co-workers.
  • Encourage talking with a supervisor.

Suggestions for supervisors

  • Discuss vicarious trauma as part of supervision and regular check-ins.
  • Recognize the need for and protect down time while staying attuned to withdrawal or isolation.
  • Refer to therapeutic and professional assistance as needed.

Through the Trauma-Informed Organization (TIO) efforts, CHS is helping build resilience through self-awareness, accountability and empowerment. If you have not attended the TIO training, please reach out to your supervisor. CHS is still building the roadmap to becoming a trauma informed organization, but we cannot get there without you. True change comes when individuals recognize themselves as part of the solution and help contribute to the change.

Online resources:

  1. Fostering Resilience and Preventing Burnout: click here.
  2. Vicarious trauma and resilience: click here.
  3. Vicarious Trauma Institute: click here.

Other resources:

  • Try yoga and/or meditation
  • Download the app Insight Timer
  • Start a new hobby. For instance, in Rapid City, try pickleball at Canyon Lake Activity Center. Look for a class in something you always wanted to learn about (cooking, painting, ceramics, etc.).
  • Reach out to a professional: contact the Helpline Center for suggestions at or 211.