For psychotherapists and all those who deal with or treat those who have experienced trauma, there is the risk of what is termed "vicarious trauma." This involves the interaction of the social worker or justice worker or member of the clergy, health care worker, journalist, or first responders with a victim of trauma. Since social workers often have continued contact with trauma victims, they are prone to this vicarious or secondary, trauma as they may become emotionally involved with the interaction with the victim. Thus, they experience similar affects as the victim; these include lack of interest, lowered work performance, depression, mood swings, sleeplessness, problems with intimacy and trust. In a study by Lamm, Batson, & Decety, 2007, the distinction between vicarious trauma and empathy was defined. Vicarious trauma results
[I]f helpers identify with their trauma survivor clients and immerse themselves in thinking about what it would be like if these events happened to them, they are likely to experience personal distress, feeling upset, worried, distressed.
On the other hand,
if helpers instead imagine what the client experienced, they may be more likely to feel compassion and moved to help.
Ways to deal with this condition include
- removing the social worker from the case that causes this trauma. For, when a social worker becomes too emotionally involved, this emotional connection hinders professionalism as the worker would have difficulty in being objective and could convey inappropriate emotions to the victim.
- involving the employee who suffers from vicarious trauma in coping activities such as added rest, escape activities such as any recreation or diversion, and escape, such as a sojourn.
- directing the employee that empathy can be expanded, not internally, but by engaging in "transforming strategies" that assist the worker in creation, rather than isolation, lending a communal sense that helps to give meaning to one's actions.