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  • Writer's pictureAli Howarth

Vicarious trauma impacts on non-clinical staff

Working in a field that involves exposure to trauma material can be challenging for anyone, and it’s not just the clinical staff who are affected. Employees who aren’t involved in direct client care, such as administrative staff or receptionists, can also be exposed to trauma material. This can include anything from processing client files to hearing about traumatic events from colleagues. Non-clinical staff may also have less training and awareness about the impacts of trauma exposure, which leads to worse outcomes for their mental health.

In a nutshell, being exposed to trauma material can lead to vicarious trauma, which is a form of trauma we can experience as a result of being exposed to someone else’s trauma. It can lead to symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and anxiety. We might start to feel that the world isn't a safe place for us or our loved ones. It'simportant for all staff who may be exposed to trauma material to be aware of the potential impact it can have on their mental health and to learn strategies to help manage it.

One of the first steps in managing vicarious trauma is to recognise when it’s starting to develop. This means sitting in curiosity and mindfulness about your work, being aware of how you feel when you’re exposed to trauma material, such as feeling overwhelmed, anxious, tired or agitated. It also means paying attention to changes in your general behaviour or mood, such as withdrawing from social situations or being easily irritated.

Once you’ve recognised that you may be experiencing vicarious trauma, there are several strategies you can use to help manage it. One of the most effective strategies is to practice self-care. This can involve engaging in activities that bring you joy or help you relax, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends and family. It’s also important to prioritise your physical health, such as getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet.

Another strategy for managing vicarious trauma is to seek support. This can involve talking to colleagues about what you’re experiencing or seeking out a mental health professional to help you process your emotions. It’s important to remember that experiencing vicarious trauma is a normal human response and that seeking support is a sign of strength.

Organisations play a huge role in supporting employees who are exposed to trauma material. This includes providing training and education on vicarious trauma and its impact, removing stigma about trauma impact, as well as creating a culture of support where employees feel comfortable seeking help if they need it. Organisations can also provide resources for mental health support, such as your Employee Assistance Program or access to mental health professionals.

Vicarious trauma can impact anyone who is exposed to trauma material, including non-clinical staff. It’s important for all staff to be aware of the potential impact and to learn strategies for managing it. By recognising when you’re experiencing vicarious trauma, practicing self-care, seeking support, and creating a culture of support within your organisation, vicarious trauma impact is minimised.

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