“I wish I could kind of go back to case management and work one-on-one with clients again…But I also am aware that that was when I was probably the most dysfunctional in my personal life in terms of traumatised, be it through not sleeping, relationship breakdown, conflicts with family, conflicts with friends.”

– Focus group participant

Repeated exposure to stories of other people’s traumatic events can result in the experience of vicarious trauma. The cumulative effect of hearing such stories over time can significantly change a person’s worldview, causing a form of unique trauma to that individual.

Former parole officer Maddison Williams knows this all too well. After a few years of working as a senior case manager with high-profile offenders such as sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic violence, Maddison started to withdraw and became anxious, losing her trust in men. She later recognised she was suffering from vicarious trauma1.

Such cases are the reason why the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) are currently piloting the Vicarious Trauma Prevention and Awareness Toolkit – a project funded by the WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

The focus of the toolkit is organisation level prevention of vicarious trauma. ISCRR’s role is to evaluate the extent to which the pilot and toolkit are able to do this.

The evaluation is currently ongoing and takes a mixed-methods approach. Action research and co-design methods are being used to inform the pilot implementation and toolkit design as the pilot progresses. So far ISCRR has identified several organisation-level factors contributing to the risk of vicarious trauma within pilot sites.

Key findings:

“I actually developed anxiety that I take medication for since working for the department, so it’s [vicarious trauma] not something that’s discussed”

– Focus group participant

The pilot is due to end in October 2022. ISCRR’s interim report presents an opportunity to further inform the toolkit and pilot moving forward.

 

  1. https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/vicarious-trauma-and-how-it-can-impact-you/100075400