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Vicarious trauma toolkit

Trauma is distress caused by an event, something that puts negativity and hopelessness in a person. However, is it only the victim that goes through trauma? No! Imagine the state of those people who help these trauma victims. What will they be going through after giving comfort and aid? What will be the after-effects of helping and listening to harsh tragedies? This causes injury to the mental health of the helpers and is known as vicarious trauma. How can it be identified and treated? This is exactly what the vicarious trauma toolkit does.


Vicarious trauma is the residual depression that victim helpers or therapists get due to continuous exposure to trauma victims and tragic situations. Vicarious trauma is different from secondary trauma. Vicarious trauma accumulates over time whereas secondary trauma can occur suddenly due to involvement in some tragic event.


Mostly victim helpers like firefighters, emergency responders, and other victim service professionals who are subjected to risky, dangerous, and negative situations go through vicarious traumatisation. Researchers at Northeastern University’s Institute of Urban Health Research and Practice developed an online toolkit called Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT).


“There is a recognition that victim service providers and first responders in these categories are day in and day out chronically and cumulatively exposed to violence and trauma, one victim at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time,” said Janet Fine, project director for the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit. Fine has over 35 years of experience in the victim services field. Collaborating with Fine and other experts, Beth Molnar (social and psychiatric epidemiologist, associate professor, and director of the Population Health Ph.D. Program at Northeastern University) wrote a proposal to create the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit. This project received funds worth $2.125 million over four years.


Vicarious trauma is an inevitable occupational challenge for the fields of victim services.   However, organisations can mitigate the potentially negative effects of trauma exposure by becoming vicarious trauma-informed. This is what the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit helps in. This toolkit is available online. It consists of 16 new tools to identify and help cure Vicarious Traumatisation.


VTT mainly focuses on victim services, emergency, medical services, fire service, and law enforcement workers. It looks out for Vicarious Trauma victims and offers help by video testimonials, training materials, research literature, policies, and practices. There is a Vicarious Trauma Organisational Readiness guide that helps victim services organisations assess their ability to address vicarious trauma and help in treatment. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) supports this effort to address vicarious trauma and promote resiliency in the field. VTT detects vicarious trauma and provides an action plan for the same. It further provides resources to implement the plan.


Trauma has immediate and lasting effects on victims but there are effects of trauma vicariously on the professionals who respond to and care for survivors. Research shows that vicarious trauma if left unaddressed, leads to staff burnout, turnover, stress, and lesser quality of services to victims. Trauma exhibits in many ways and can affect one emotionally and mentally. Hence, it is important to cure it, no matter how it comes (directly or vicariously).


Arpita Priyadarshinee