ReFrame Conference 2021: Secondary Trauma & Compassion Fatigue

Posted By: Adrienne Osborne (deleted) Video Library,

Field staff, intake staff, and others in home repair nonprofits can experience secondary trauma and compassion fatigue. Sometimes called vicarious trauma, it is emotional duress experienced as a result of prolonged exposure to the details of other people's traumatic experiences.  

It is a natural but disruptive by-product of working with traumatized clients, and mirrors the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many types of professionals such as human service workers and emergency workers are vulnerable to developing this type of stress, though only a subset of such workers experience it.

The symptoms of compassion fatigue may include feelings of isolation, anxiety, dissociation, physical ailments, and sleep disturbances. Additionally, compassion fatigue is associated with a sense of confusion, helplessness, and a greater sense of isolation from supporters than is seen with burnout. It is preventable and treatable, however, if unaddressed, the symptoms can result in problems with mental and physical health, strained personal relationships, and poor work performance.

Evidence of compassion fatigue can be difficult to recognize in oneself or even in others. Symptoms often include a combination of cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and physical features. They may also involve a spiritual component such as questioning meaning or loss of faith.

Kathy Riley from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) will be leading this session virtually. She rose from the PDA volunteer ranks to be a national leader for emotional and spiritual care work. Check out her bio for more information.

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Other Resources

PDA Resilience Handout