Frontline anti-violence workers are routinely exposed to trauma, and may experience negative impacts as a result of working with victims and survivors of violence and trauma. Vicarious trauma refers to the negative cumulative impacts of exposure to clients’ disclosures of trauma among helping professionals. While not all anti-violence workers who are exposed to their clients’ trauma will develop vicarious trauma, those who do can experience significant changes in affect and cognition, self-esteem, sense of safety, and worldview.
Signs of vicarious trauma among frontline anti-violence workers include intrusive thoughts, nightmares, cynicism, poor mental and physical health outcomes, as well as absenteeism, and difficulty maintaining healthy professional boundaries and making decisions. Vicarious trauma also impacts the anti-violence workforce as a whole through low rates of worker retention and impacts on the quality of services provided to victims and survivors.
Increasing frontline anti-violence workers’ and organizational leaders’ awareness about vicarious trauma, including risk and protective factors, impacts, and strategies for mitigating vicarious trauma, through information and training, can significantly improve the health and wellness of individual workers, increase organizational support to workers, and benefit the community-based anti-violence sector as a whole.
The Mitigating Vicarious Trauma Project was intended to help both individual anti- violence workers and the organizations they work for identify and address vicarious trauma. The objectives of the project were:
1) To increase frontline anti-violence workers’ knowledge and awareness of the occupational health and safety impacts related to working in the area of responding to violent crime including impacts related to supporting survivors of gender-based violence during COVID-19.
2) To increase frontline anti-violence workers’ ability to protect themselves against and mitigate the negative effects of vicarious trauma.
3) To increase organization leadership’s knowledge and awareness of the impact of vicarious trauma on their frontline staff, and to equip them to mitigate that impact. It is vital that shifts are made at an organizational level as well as an individual level.
4) To create a set of vicarious trauma mitigation resources that can be accessed in the future on the EVA BC website. These resources will be expanded and updated over time.
5) Ultimately, to help create a healthier and more stable anti-violence workforce to better serve victims of intimate partner and sexual violence.
The outcomes of the project included print materials and live educational webinars. The print materials consisted of four Tip Sheets for specific anti-violence workers, a Tip Sheet for anti-violence organizations, an 18-page Overview of Vicarious Trauma, a 27-page annotated bibliography, and three webinars:
- Vicarious Trauma Tip Sheet for Community-Based Victim Service Workers
- Vicarious Trauma Tip Sheet for Stopping the Violence Counsellors
- Vicarious Trauma Tip Sheet for Stopping the Violence and Multicultural Outreach Workers
- Vicarious Trauma Tip Sheet for Sexual Assault Centre Workers
- Vicarious Trauma Tip Sheet for Anti-Violence Organizations
- Backgrounder: Overview and History of Vicarious Trauma
- Mitigating Vicarious Trauma: Synthesised Annotations of Literature
- Overview of Vicarious Trauma and its Impacts (Two-hour long webinar, delivered March 17th, 2021)
- Self Assessment and Strategies for Anti-violence Workers to Mitigate the Impact of Vicarious Trauma (Two-hour long webinar, delivered March 18th, 2021)
- Organizational Assessment and Strategies to Prevent Vicarious Trauma in the Anti- Violence Workforce (One-hour long webinar, delivered March 30th, 2021)