By: Jennifer Hall
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 6% to 26% of therapists who work with traumatized populations are at high risk for secondary traumatic stress. And this number jumps to nearly 50% among child welfare workers. Secondary traumatic stress (STS)—also called “vicarious stress” or “compassion fatigue”—represents a disorder with a complex array of symptoms and is most commonly suffered by those in the helping professions who treat clients suffering from post-traumatic stress. Here we’ll look at the causes, symptoms, and management options for caregivers who experience symptoms of STS.
What Is STS?
Therapists, social workers, and caregivers are tasked with providing compassionate, empathetic care for their clients. Those who treat the victims of severe trauma over time can develop psychological changes of their own in response to what they experience through their clients. Because these changes are rooted in the trauma experiences of others (rather than in a traumatic event that is experienced firsthand), they are collectively referred to as “secondary” traumatic stress symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of STS?
According to a 2006 article by Laura Simpson and Donna Starkey, clinicians and caregivers who experience STS can display symptoms such as “avoidance of the trauma, feelings of horror, guilt, rage, grief, detachment, or dread.” These symptoms can negatively impact the clinician–client relationship, and can result in “burnout” among counselors, therapists, and caregivers. Other symptoms of STS are much like those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and include sleep disturbances, substance abuse, avoidance of social occasions, lapses in focus, and feelings of guilt, helplessness, or anger. Physical symptoms may accompany these emotional/psychological changes and are often characterized by headaches, grinding teeth, exhaustion, insomnia, and heart palpitations.
Who Suffers from STS?
We already named a few professionals (social workers, therapists, and counselors who work with traumatized clients) who are at highest risk for developing STS. But they are not alone. First responders (fire, police, and paramedic personnel) as well as medical professionals (doctors, nurses, and physician assistants) can also experience STS symptoms.
At Key Assets Kentucky, we’ve spent years treating clients who have experienced severe childhood or adult trauma, and we are aware of the risk for STS that this treatment poses to caregivers. That’s why each year Key Assets Kentucky conducts a mandatory training provided by a Certified Trauma Expert who helps our caregivers determine if they are experiencing some symptoms of secondary trauma stress and provides tools for recognizing symptoms and managing stress.
If you or a loved one has experienced a traumatic event and is displaying symptoms of PTSD or STS, contact us today. Our professional, qualified, and experienced staff are trained in an array of treatment modalities to help victims of traumatic stress disorders to set personal wellness goals, reduce symptoms, and regain control of their lives and become survivors. Call Key Assets Kentucky today and discover your resiliency!
You can contact us today by completing our Referral for Services form online or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Key Assets Kentucky, is a behavioral health and child caring company based in Central Kentucky. Through our Key Assets Behavioral Health program and Children in Community Care program, we seek to positively impact the lives of children, young people, their families. We specialize in offering support services via residential treatment group home care for youth with autism and/or developmental disabilities, and behavioral health therapy and case management services for youth, adults and families in times of crisis. Key Assets Kentucky is part of the Key Assets Group, an international group of companies delivering a continuum of services for children, adults and families.