Caring professionals work with children, adults and families who have been traumatized or are in serious distress.

What Is Secondary Trauma?

Secondary Trauma - doctorSecondary trauma is commonly referred to as "the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person."* Dr. Laurie Pearlman, an expert in the trauma field prefers the term vicarious trauma to describe the "cumulative transformative effect of working with survivors of traumatic life events."**

Who is at risk for secondary trauma?
All professionals, paraprofessionals or family members who work with and/or assist traumatized or distressed children, adults or families. Examples of such professionals:

  • psychotherapists
  • nurses
  • teachers
  • hospice workers
  • foster parents
  • counselors
  • mental health counselors
  • suicide hotline staff
  • prison guards
  • child welfare workers
  • social workers
  • journalists
  • firefighters
  • physicians
  • judges
  • veterans

What are some common symptoms of secondary trauma?

  • intrusive thoughts
  • chronic fatigue
  • sadness
  • anger
  • poor concentration
  • second guessing
  • detachment
  • emotional exhaustion
  • fearfulness
  • shame
  • physical illness
  • absenteeism

Why should organizations be concerned about secondary trauma and its impact on their staff?
The costs of recruiting, hiring and training new staff are significant. Secondary trauma is a contributing factor to turnover. Turnover brings down staff morale, increases the workload for remaining staff, results in poor continuity of care for children and families, and prevents organizations from forming a high functioning and cohesive workforce. In addition, the quality and quantity of a staff member’s work may suffer if they have been secondarily traumatized and do not receive assistance.

*Figley, C.R. (Ed.) (1995). Compassion Fatigue: Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorders from Treating the Traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel, p.7.
**Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Trauma, Saakvitne, Pearlman and Staff of TSI/CAAP (Norton, 1996)

What is Secondary Trauma?

Secondary Trauma - girl 2


Contact David Conrad, LCSW
Senior Instructor with Distinction
University of Colorado School of Medicine



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