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Vicarious Trauma

A Plan of Self-Care for Prevention a Vicarious Trauma

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Mastering the skills of self-care is essential for ensuring healthy physical and mental state, which is necessary to ones well-being. That is why, every person should develop a plan of self-care. Scholars define it as the ability to proactively enhance our health by building resilience and preventing illness and disease (Concern Worldwide, 2012, p. 5). This approach is especially important for individuals who work in healthcare, counseling, and social work settings. The fact is that these occupations predefine great exposure to secondary trauma. This psychological issue is also known as a vicarious trauma, which is the course through which the therapists inner experience is negatively transformed as a result of empathic engagement with clients traumatic material (Gerding, 2012, p. 1). Secondary trauma has the cumulative effect. Therefore, it may be defined as an ongoing process of change over time that results from witnessing or hearing about other peoples suffering and need (Pearlman & Lisa McKay, 2008, p. 7). In other words, individuals may experience the effect of vicarious trauma long time after the disturbing events occur. Moreover, the prolonged effect of secondary trauma implies that the risk group among counselors comprises people who earlier experienced personal traumas that were not adequately addressed (Gerding, 2012). The present paper aims to determine personal benevolent and malevolent coping mechanisms that are currently being implemented as a response to secondary traumas with the purpose to assess and correct a plan of self-care.

Current Coping Strategies


Detecting positive coping mechanisms, it is appropriate to accentuate that I am stronger oriented to seeking and implementing the inner sources of resilience. In particular, these are the activities that help to balance work and personal life experiences, including practicing Yoga, watching comedies, walking much in the fresh air, and doing constant self-reflection. Moreover, recently I started to practice partitioning the level of involvement in secondary traumas. Mastering this ability is an essential task and my priority for the near future.


To begin with, it is important to stress that I am not engaged in unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, alcohol intake, or smoking. Furthermore, I comprehend that these practices are dangerous for my physical and mental health, career, and interpersonal relations. However, sometimes, I use food as a coping mechanism, but this strategy is utilized about once per week. I understand the negative outcomes of this unhealthy mechanism, and thus, I strive to control this urge and do not overuse food as a means of reassuring. Analyzing my current coping mechanisms, I must confess that I apply denial, which is probably the strongest negative coping strategy that was detected. Denial is difficult to be identified and, more importantly, it is even harder to lessen the use of this strategy because it is tricky to acknowledge what is being denied. Scrutinizing how denial can be lessened, I realize that this approach is opposite to acceptance. Thus, this paper contains a plan of self-care for preventing vicarious trauma basing on the principle of acceptance, which will be reviewed in detail below.

The Strategies that Will Be Used to Prevent Vicarious Trauma

Sympathy Instead of Empathy

As mentioned above, I am focused on learning to portion the level of involvement. In other words, the process of counseling requires one to be stronger controlled by consciousness. Furthermore, given that empathy is the transmitter of a secondary trauma, I deduce that empathy should be replaced with sympathy. The difference between the two terms is that the latter does not presume making associative connections with the customers revelations. According to scholars, vicarious trauma occurs when you identify with the pain of people who have endured terrible things, you bring their grief, fear, anger, and despair into your own awareness and experience (Pearlman & Lisa McKay, 2008, p. 8). Consequently, to anticipate this kind of psychological issue, it is advisable to change from empathy to sympathy and learn to control this process not with emotions but with the cognitive domain.

The above coping strategy is supposed to decrease the possibility of manipulations done by victims of the traumatic events. Consciously or not, most of them are manipulated by a listener to obtain the needed comfort/reassurance or to avoid face-threatening situations. This insight is considerable for a counselor because it is the first step towards learning to provide assistance without the adverse change of identity that happens because of the excessive association with the problems of a client. This is one of the most important coping mechanisms that I want to advance.

Division of Responsibility

Another strategy is division of responsibility. Undoubtedly, it possesses certain amount of ambiguity in terms of ethics; however, it is a rationale approach towards eliminating the likelihood of vicarious trauma. Specifically, it often seems that a counselor could have done more for a client. This premise may be correct, but it should serve as the motive for self-analysis/reflection and professional advancement; instead, a counselor starts to believe that he/she is fully responsible for distressed condition of a witness of traumatic events. This supposition is erroneous because the trauma was caused by another individual/event, and the patient is also in charge for his/her coping mechanisms. Therefore, the division of responsibility is a benevolent approach (if it is not abused) that may be employed to prevent secondary trauma. Both of the above-discussed strategies require conscious perception of the action of the external stimuli and internal responses that may lead to vicarious trauma. Therefore, mastering self-awareness is a critical strategy.

Strengthening Awareness

Empathy is essential for being capable of helping people; however, the stronger the empathy is, the more probable the development of a vicarious trauma appears to be. In addition, counselors must acknowledge the frequent consequences of VT, such as a disruption in the ones worldview (Gerding, 2012, p. 2). Scholars accentuate that the perversion of reality is the most dangerous in terms of alteration of spirituality (Pearlman & Lisa McKay, 2008). In particular, defining the negative outcomes of secondary trauma, one should comprehend that it may affect ones sense of trust, raise concerns about personal safety, result in avoidance of stimuli reminiscent of the trauma, and diminish ones view of human nature (Gerding, 2012, p. 2). Therefore, strengthening awareness is the first step of self-care that is focused on anticipating and mitigating the outcomes of being exposed to secondary traumas.

Mastering Acceptance

Awareness begets acceptance. Without a doubt, acceptance of the new personality is a crucial task. The work on improving ones well-being is impossible if a person does not accept that change of identity that has already occurred. For instance, being exposed to secondary trauma, I became an atheist even though the religious background of my family was rather strong. The first reaction was denial; thereafter, I became aware of that fact, but I struggled to accept the change. The inner struggle was the most unpleasant experience because I felt guilty for not being able to rely on the same source of resilience. Moreover, I was misunderstood by my family members. Hence, acceptance of the new self eliminated the struggle, and the compulsion of religion has gone.

Accepting the change in my spiritual world opens the new perspectives. For instance, it erases compulsive accountability to certain greater power. I analyzed the alteration and understood that it did not make a negative change in terms of resilience. Instead, it strengthened my inner locus of control. An important conclusion derived from this situation is that the change, either spiritual or emotional, should be accepted as long as it does not decrease the level of a persons resilience. This is a workable strategy to address denial.

Plausible Obstacles and Counteractions

Distinguishing potential obstacles, one should take into account the following considerations. To start with, sympathy cannot be effective if a counselor does not identify and address personal traumas. In other words, similarity of problems and the cumulative effect of a vicarious trauma provoke empathy. In this case, division of responsibility is ineffective because a counselors trauma is still active and becomes the major source of distress. Besides, constant focusing on awareness can intensify the need to control all manifestations of the psyche, which may be overwhelming and lead to stoicism and inability to use the help of other people. Finally, acceptance of the self does not mean that the dear ones are capable of accepting the change. In this situation, the conflicts between personal and collective identity may occur.

Considering the above-mentioned obstacles, one should develop the following counteractions. Firstly, a counselor should conduct constant self-reflections with the aim to identify and mitigate personal traumas. Secondly, one should comprehend that behaving naturally and spontaneously is the freedom that should not be neglected even if it means being different or mistaken. Moreover, to lessen stoicism, it is necessary to search for the sources of resilience in persons social ecology. Thirdly, despite the fact that individuals refer to Big Other for self-assessment, self-acceptance should be minimally dependent on that appraisal; the new self-identity should be preserved even if it leads to conflicts with others.

An Outline of Self-Care Plan for Anticipating Secondary Trauma

Current coping mechanisms

Prospected coping strategies

Possible obstacles




Resonating personal traumas

Self-analysis aimed at mitigating personal traumas

Strong inner locus of control

Reasonable division of responsibility


Awareness/change to sympathy



Strengthening awareness

Excessive control/detachment/stoicism

Finding external (social) sources of resilience



Mastering acceptance

Discouraging attitude of dear ones

Preserving the new self-identity



In summary, it is necessary to stress that the elaborated plan of self-care for managing vicarious trauma contains such positive coping mechanisms as replacing empathy with sympathy, applying diffusion of responsibility, and mastering self-awareness and acceptance. These strategies may be hindered with a range of obstacles, for instance, the presence of unresolved personal traumas, evolvement of detachment and stoicism, the resistance of dear ones in terms of accepting the new identity, and uncontrolled empathy. To address these challenges, one should seek the sources of resilience in community, apply the method of conflicts if it is necessary for defending the changed identity, and conduct constant self-reflection to advance awareness.

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