How to Cope with Vicarious Trauma as a Healthcare Professional

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Vicarious trauma among healthcare professionals, and other individuals in the helping profession, has been magnified over the past year.

Vicarious Trauma Among Behavioral Healthcare Workers

Throughout their day, behavioral healthcare workers hear the stories of the people who have often experienced mild or significant trauma.

“Hearing those stories of mistreatment or difficult times can start to take an emotional toll on the treatment provider because the stories are usually disheartening,” said Steve Fisher, Director of Clinical Services at the Mental Health Center of Denver. “It can be overwhelming to think about what that person has had to endure.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral healthcare workers have seen individuals with higher levels of anxiety or depression because they have had to isolate, or their jobs have been at risk. They have also seen people grieving the loss of a loved one and not being able to have funerals.

How Physical Healthcare Workers Can Experience Vicarious Trauma

Nurses, doctors and other medical providers have also been hit hard this past year.

“Medical providers can experience vicarious trauma when treating someone who was in a tragic accident or who has an illness. It’s a little bit different from the mental health side, but it’s a similar phenomenon,” Steve said. “They’re exposed to people going through a really hard time, and they’re trying to help them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a set of challenges that made things even harder for physical healthcare workers. Workers didn’t have enough personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic. They have had to worry about contracting the virus while working on the front lines. And they have seen people get sick without improvement and witnessed individuals die in isolation.

How to Create Well-Being for Yourself

Whether you are helping people through emotional, psychological or physical tragedies, being proactive about self-care can help you prevent and cope with vicarious trauma.

Conduct a self-assessment of your core beliefs, professional skills and goals. Then, create a well-being plan that addresses the physical, psychological, career, intellectual, spiritual, interpersonal, financial, environmental and community dimensions of your life.

“During the pandemic, the normal ways I created well-being for myself haven’t always been sufficient, so I have had to reevaluate my well-being plan and up my game,” Steve said. “Make necessary changes to your plan that allow you to still have well-being in your life while you’re in the middle of a pandemic serving others.”

Part of that well-being plan can include professional help by seeing a therapist or utilizing your organization’s employee assistance plan. In addition, Colorado Crisis Services is a 24/7, confidential resource that offers immediate support. Call 1-844-493-8255, text “TALK” to 38255 or visit a walk-in center.