What is Vicarious Trauma?

Many professionals such as First Responders, mental healthcare workers, lawyers, judges, police officers, clergy  and others who routinely come in contact with trauma and suffering as part of their work  can suffer emotional and physical affects because regular interaction with trauma can take a toll. The result can be what is termed  “vicarious trauma.”  When we experience on a daily  basis overwhelming  information that is horrific and disturbing —our bodies, minds, and  psyche have to push away normal human  emotions to cope.

In 2004, Mariska Hargitay who plays  Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit,  created the Joyful Heart Foundation.

Joyful Heart is a leading national organization with a mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever. Joyful Heart has  identified the following effects of vicarious trauma :

  • Constant tiredness, even after resting.
  • Physical body tension
  • Headaches, back pain, and wrist pain
  • Difficulty falling asleep or excessive sleeping.
  • Falling sick when you have time to rest, such as on a vacation.
  • Hypersensitive to emotionally charged material.
  • Feeling disconnected from your emotions and/or your body
  • Guilt for having more resources or opportunities than those you serve.
  • Feeling like no matter how much you give, it will never be enough.
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless about the future
  • Increased levels of anger, irritability, resentment, or cynicism
  • Difficulty in seeing multiple perspectives or new solutions.
  • Jumping to conclusions, rigid thinking, or difficulty being thoughtful and deliberate
  • Minimizing the suffering of others in comparison to the most severe incidents or situations
  • Intrusive thoughts and imagery related to the traumatic material you have seen or heard.
  • Absenteeism and attrition
  • Avoidance of work, relationships, and/or responsibilities
  • Dread of activities that used to be positive or neutral.
  • Using behaviors to escape, such as eating, taking alcohol/drugs, watching TV, or shopping.
  • No separation of personal and professional time
  • Viewing other people who do not work within your field as less important.
  • Difficulty relating to others’ day-to-day experiences without comparing them to those you serve or yourself.
  • Lacking a personal life outside of work
  • Hypervigilant and concerned about the safety of those you care about
  • Isolate yourself completely from others or only interacting with people who are in your same field or can relate to your experiences.



Many of these same symptoms are also experienced by victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Self-care for those suffering from vicarious trauma is  very important. Resources are available to help. http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/learn/vicarious-trauma/resources

The Law Office of Tahira Khan Merritt is a Trauma Informed  law firm. We exclusively represent child and adult  victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault in civil cases. We stand ready to help you with your legal needs.  For more than  twenty-five years, we have represented victims of sex crimes in civil cases against institutions, including colleges and universities, religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, Baptist Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Episcopal Church, and Presbyterian Church, among others. We have also represented victims of sexual abuse in  medical settings,  group homes,  schools,  youth sports organizations,  youth camps, daycares, scouting, and other youth serving organizations. You may confidentially contact our office at 214-503-7300 or through our website :  https://tkmlawfirm.com/.

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