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Vicarious Trauma and Compassion Fatigue

Recent studies have indicated that vicarious trauma is a major challenge capable of affecting counselors’ professional and personal outcomes (Ray, Wong, White, & Heaslip, 2013). The term “vicious trauma” refers to the distressing reaction to the experiences of a client (Ray et al., 2013).

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First responders and counselors are usually vulnerable to clients’ experiences or stories. The control can be taken from the counselor and eventually make him or her helpless. This development can result in shattered identity. Affected counselors and first responders will find it hard to interact positively with their family members. Hayden, Williams, Canto, and Finklea (2015) believe that vicious trauma makes it hard for responders to develop meaningful relations with their clients due to guilt. Counselors who are vulnerable to this kind of trauma might commit therapeutic impasses or clinical errors.

Increased levels of vicarious trauma can eventually result in countertransference (Ray et al., 2013). When a counselor is exposed to high levels of trauma, his or her cognitive schema is disrupted. Countertransference usually occurs when the counselor unearths traumatic events during therapeutic sessions. First responders and counselors therefore tend to have higher chances of developing vicarious trauma

Burnout is another unique problem that has been observed to affect the experiences of many first responders and counselors. Burnout is usually associated with high workloads, poor guidance, and lack of support. Counselors supporting many victims after disasters are “at higher risks of burnout” (Bloomquist, Wood, & Kim, 2015, p. 301). In Pennsylvania, burnout has been observed to affect many counselors and therapists working in public agencies (Hayden et al., 2015).

Studies done in the state have indicated that majority of the professionals affected by burnout tend to portray both physical and emotional symptoms. They also find it hard to interact with their workmates. The individuals will also have reduced esteem or concern for their respective clients.

It is agreeable that counselors and first responders will have to come into terms with the experiences of their clients. This is the case because they have to listen to the stories and experiences facing their clients. Trauma responders and counselors therefore have higher chances of developing compassion fatigue (Bloomquist et al., 2015). This condition is a form of weariness that develops when a counselor is exposed to a traumatic event.

For example, a counselor providing therapy to victims of abuse or natural disasters will have increased chances of developing this problem. A study conducted in Pennsylvania indicates that most of the counselors affected by this condition will become depressed and depersonalize their patients or clients (Bloomquist et al., 2015). The individual lacks a sense of control. More often than not, the counselor will find it hard to support the targeted clients and become frustrated.

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This discussion therefore shows clearly that vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue are critical concerns for first responders and counselors. These professionals should therefore be aware of their belief changes and the values of others. This knowledge will make it easier for them to embrace “the concept of self-care in order to safeguard themselves from the effects of helping people who have traumatic histories” (Ray et al., 2013, p. 263).

Self-care approaches will guide more counselors to address the interpersonal difficulties and ethical concerns associated with vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout. When such measures are considered, more counselors and disaster responders will embrace the concepts of work-life balance and self-awareness. The professionals will eventually find it easier to deliver quality therapy and support to the targeted patients.


Bloomquist, K., Wood, L., & Kim, H. (2015). Self-care and professional quality of life: Predictive factors among MSW practitioners. Advances in Social Work, 16(2), 292-311. Web.

Hayden, S., Williams, D., Canto, A., & Finklea, T. (2015). Shelter from the storm: Addressing vicarious traumatization through wellness-based clinical supervision. The Professional Counselor, 5(4), 529-542. Web.

Ray, S., Wong, C., White, D., & Heaslip, K. (2013). Compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, work life conditions, and burnout among frontline mental health care professionals. Traumatology, 19(4), 255-267. Web.

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