Vicarious trauma is a normal and predictable response to repeated exposure to traumatic content.
Traumatic content refers to details of another person’s trauma experience. It can come in many forms depending on the industry and occupation:
As vicarious trauma is cumulative, it is often labelled a ‘silent hazard’.
Vicarious trauma also occurs as a result of empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotions of another person. When workers engage with traumatic content empathically, it puts them at risk of vicarious trauma. The trouble is empathy is essential to effective service delivery in many trauma professions. It for this reason vicarious trauma is commonly described as ‘the cost of caring’.
ISCRR’s Vicarious Trauma Research Officer, Carmen Schroder, further explains what vicarious trauma is in the video below:
ISCRR has a number of past and present projects that relate to the topic of vicarious trauma. Below are some resources relating to these projects. If you have any questions about our resources or would like to collaborate in future on a vicarious trauma project, please contact us.
In 2018 ISCRR conducted a rapid evidence review: ‘Vicarious exposure to trauma at work’. Access the report here.
In 2019 ISCRR conducted an evidence review: ‘Cumulative exposure to trauma at work’. This review focused on effective interventions and preventive strategies to address cumulative exposure to potentially traumatic events. Access the report here.
In 2023 ISCRR updated the evidence review on cumulative trauma prevention and interventions strategies. The updated review focuses specifically on ‘Vicarious trauma in the workplace’. Access the report here.
ISCRR has held two webinars on vicarious trauma.
In this webinar, Carmen Schroder and Grace Norrie cover what vicarious trauma is, the case for proactive prevention, common symptoms and misconceptions.
In this webinar, ISCRR Researcher Olivia Crivari discusses the experience of vicarious trauma in teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vicarious Trauma Prevention and Awareness Toolkit (VTPAT) website
The Victorian Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) accessed funding from WorkSafe Victoria’s WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund to identify best practice from around the world in dealing with vicarious trauma and pilot vicarious trauma preventions in the Victorian Public Service. The CPSU piloted this process in partnership with the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) and the Department of Family, Fairness and Housing (DFFH).
The culmination of this work is the Vicarious Trauma Prevention and Awareness Toolkit (VTPAT) website. The website contains customised resources to begin to increase knowledge and skills for government departments to create supportive vicarious trauma informed workplaces.
Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (United States of America) website
The VTPAT developed some of its content from studying the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit website produced by the Department of Justice in the United States of America.