On World Mental Health Day (October 10, 2023), Carmen Schroder, a Research Officer at the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) presented at Comcare’s Psychosocial Health and Safety Forum on approaches to tackling vicarious trauma in the workplace.
Carmen, an expert in vicarious trauma research, was invited to share her knowledge at this prestigious event, alongside prominent speakers like Georgie Harman, CEO of Beyond Blue, and Greg Vines, CEO of Comcare, who discussed key challenges in the Australian mental health landscape.
Carmen’s presentation included an overview on what vicarious trauma is, how it relates to empathy, and how direct and indirect trauma unfolds in the workplace. This last point is particularly useful as it reveals how we can design jobs differently in order to prevent vicarious trauma from happening in the first place.
She noted its prevalence and significance sighting that ‘Vicarious trauma affects up to 50% of workers who are exposed, and it’s a hazard across many occupations’. 1
“This is a huge issue in modern Australia, my wife works as a receptionist and assists one day a week in wellbeing in a primary school with a high housing commission student cohort and the stories are quite horrific, I think we underestimate the professions and situations where this may happen.” – Patrick
“I used to work on a helpdesk for the Ombudsman, people would ring and lodge complaints about all APS departments. Often threatened, we all had vicarious trauma, I am sure of it and back then, yep EAP was the only place to go, no one in the office wanted to know we had to listen to lots of hard stories.” – Lisa
The research on how to prevent vicarious trauma has broader applications on preventing other psychosocial hazards in the workplace, which is why Carmen’s expertise was sought after by Comcare. For three and a half years she worked on the Vicarious Trauma Prevention and Awareness Toolkit (VTPAT) project – a CPSU pilot to target systematic prevention of vicarious trauma in the public service sector. She used this project as an applied example of action research, highlighting the importance of preventing psychosocial hazards in the workplace rather than reacting to them.
Carmen stressed the significance of workplace culture in addressing vicarious trauma and other psychosocial hazards, a recurring theme throughout the forum. She also emphasised the importance of consulting with staff at all levels of an organisation and using co-design methods to incorporate lived experiences from frontline staff, which her action research found to be more valuable than recommendations from existing literature.
With over 740 viewers streaming her session, an active online discussion in the chat, and positive feedback, Carmen’s presentation was well-received.
“Amazingly prescriptive! Thank you for sharing Carmen (You’ve been an amazing presenter today!)” – Anonymous
“This is ‘totally’ a psychologically safe approach. We can create proof of what works only by trying things – in a safe and intentional way.” – Anonymous
“Amazing and very valuable research Carmen. Thanks so much for your involvement in this and for sharing!” – Jon Harrison
“Brilliant presentation Carmen – so helpful!” – Anonymous
“Carmen, just hit the nail on the head!!!” – Anonymous
You can watch the whole event on Comcare’s YouTube channel. Carmen’s presentation begins at 1 hour, 18 minutes and 30 seconds.