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  • Writer's pictureAli Howarth

Organisational risk and protective factors regarding vicarious trauma.

Today we’re going to take a deeper dive into the organisational risk and protective factors in the development of vicarious trauma. In the last post we examined the professional risk and protective factors. Organisational factors are quite different and focus upon the systems and processes in the workspace. Importantly: organisational factors such as protocols and culture can lead to professional risk and protective factors such as high caseloads.

Organisations hold a great deal of power in whether staff members will develop vicarious trauma. Organisational risk factors that contribute to the development of vicarious trauma include things like not incorporating trauma awareness in protocols and processes, judging counsellor stress reactions as personal failings rather than normal responses to trauma exposure, not providing clinical supervision or adequate training and expecting workers to maintain high caseloads of trauma clients. When an organisation does not acknowledge the risk of vicarious trauma or the fact that vicarious trauma is a normal human response to trauma exposure vicarious trauma rates will rise.

High risk factors for staff also include working with an underserved or vulnerable population group, such as traumatised children, working for poor pay with limited resources (including resources of self where there doesn’t seem enough of the self to go around).

A risk dynamic that really became front of mind during the pandemic and lock downs was the geographic and emotional isolation of workers, which emerged as an increasingly important risk factor when it comes to developing vicarious trauma.

One of the first lines of organisational defence against the development of vicarious trauma is to promote and role model a trauma-informed culture, practices and processes. When a trauma informed lens is embedded as part of an organisation’s structure, culture and protocols, the development of vicarious trauma can be much reduced.

A trauma informed workplace acknowledges the changes that occur at personal, professional and organisational levels with the exposure to trauma content. The organisation develops its own trauma informed mission statement and devotes resources to creating this as a reality for all members of staff. The mission statement will have parallels to trauma informed client care and can include things like: building a culture of respect, safety and care for both clients and staff; appropriate levels of supervision; ample training and support of staff to undertake training; clear delineation of work roles; and the acknowledgement of the impact that trauma exposure can have on all workers.

A truly trauma informed organisation will also invite constructive feedback and input from its workers to enhance the transparency of the workplace and the agency of the workers.

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