Over the past several years we’ve been exposed to a large number of images, videos and first-hand accounts of brutality and violence, especially towards BIPOC people and other minoritized communities. Exposure to these media and witnessing the suffering they cause in others can be sources of trauma in and of themselves, known as secondary trauma. Secondary trauma frequently presents with the same physiological and psychological symptoms we expect from primary trauma. Individuals who’ve personally witnessed or been the victim of similar acts are more vulnerable to secondary trauma, as are those who are part of communities who know this violence is possible or more likely.
Community members who provide emotional support to others in the wake of violence can be affected as well. Vicarious Trauma can occur in friends, family, and community members who are the “rocks” and listening ears of their communities. Vicarious trauma, just like secondary or primary, can mirror symptoms of PTSD. The Counseling Center has created this guide to promote awareness of secondary and vicarious trauma in light of the ongoing public health crisis of violence and systemic racism, and to help support community members managing these experiences.
Signs of Secondary or Vicarious Trauma
- Difficulty concentrating or persisting in tasks.
- Feelings of numbness, hopelessness, of being overwhelmed.
- Experiencing trauma imagery- not just media or memories, but visualizations of described events.
- Physical and emotional hyper vigilance for threats or danger.
- Physically or emotionally withdrawing from others particularly salient for vicarious trauma among community/family/friend “rocks” or helpers and may be harder to detect.
- Spiritual doubt and worry.
- Fundamental shifts in beliefs about the world, people, and the future.
Moving through Secondary or Vicarious Trauma (The ABC’s)*
*adapted from Minnesota Department of Education “The ABCs of Managing Secondary Trauma: Awareness, Balance, and Connection” handout and Saakvitne, K. & Pearlman, L. (1996). Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Traumatization for Helping Professionals who Work with Traumatized Clients. New York, New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
- Think about your “trauma map”. What is your history and experience of trauma? How might that impact you and how you move through your classes and social connections on campus?
- Check in with your routines and practices and adjust if necessary. Do you get enough sleep/too much sleep? When you sleep do you feel rested? What are your eating habits and how do they align with your appetite/hunger cues/emotional triggers? Do you build in time for exercise/movement/relaxation?
- Reflect on ways you care for yourself in different forms (emotionally, physically, academically, socially)? Be mindful about what self-care looks like for you and be intentional about curating and protecting those spaces/activities. Some examples of self-care include:
- Listening to music that promotes the mood you want to feel.
- Tapping into a new or old hobbies.
- Being out in nature.
- Solo (or group) dance parties.
- Finding a new, calming environment in which to work/study.
- Open yourself up to experiencing your emotions without judgment and with openness that you can feel multiple things at the same time.
- Establish clear boundaries with others and with yourself to honor your needs. It’s okay to miss/cancel a club meeting or let a friend know you can’t immediately address a request. It’s also okay to talk to a professor if you’re struggling with an assignment’s due date.
- Create realistic expectations and adaptive/healthy coping strategies.
- Develop/maintain your support systems. Stay connected with friends, family, and mentors and don’t be afraid to share how they can support/check in on you.
- If you find support in religion/spirituality, don’t forget to connect to those parts of your life. Listen to music, read scripture, visit sites/locations that allow for that form of connection.
General Tips for Support for Students
- Who is the person within your friend group that others usually seek out for support? Check in on how they are doing- helpers need support too but may be the least likely to ask for it.
- Do not assume that trauma only exists in individuals directly involved with distressing events.
- Let students know about Counseling Center resources.
- Individual Counseling: Brief Individual Counseling and one-time Let’s Talk conversations.
- Affinity Spaces: Let’s Connect Now for BIPOC Students (give us a call at 410-617-2273 to learn about scheduling)
- Recognize that different students may have different needs and emphasize a willingness to meet students where they are. Whenever possible, be flexible with your expectations.
- Promote and practice self-care.
- When students and colleagues of color discuss or disclose experiences of racism, believe them. Do not minimize what happened. Listen and respond with validation. You can respond by using a phrase like:
- “I appreciate you trusting me with that. You have every right to be hurt by that behavior.”
- “I’m here to support you. If you want additionally support, we can talk about resources together.”
You are also invited to seek assistance from professionals in Campus Ministry, ALANA Services, the Women’s Center, and the Counseling Center, who look forward to working with you.
The Counseling Center located in Humanities 150 is open M-F from 8:30am until 5pm (EST) and closed when the university is closed. If you would like to make an appointment with a counselor schedule an appointment online, stop by our office, or give us a call at 410-617-2273.