Vicarious Trauma (VT) and Chronic Stress (CS) are common within community programming, particularly programming that has as its mission the transformation of social inequities.

For this 2 Tips, the importance of seeing and building awareness about VT and CS are emphasized. Unlike other 2 Tips, here we focus not on concrete tools to implement, but rather paradigms to try on.

Surveying and testing yourself and colleagues to see how much VT and CS you experience is not what we recommend. Know that it is highly likely that you all are already exposed to the scenarios that create VT and CS. Ultimately, VT and CS are shown to reduce the quality of services provided to the clients in need (Bride et al., 2009; Graham, 2012).

Definitions & Details

Vicarious trauma (VT):
Psychological and biological strain from exposure to persons who have or continue to experience trauma/post-traumatic stress through the course of hearing about and witnessing the person’s trauma as well as being in the spaces where their trauma unfolds (Hernandez-Wolfe, Killian, Engstrom, & Gangsei, 2014). It is the result of meaningfully delivering services to populations who themselves are stressed and traumatized. Thoughtful, human-to-human connection that is required for serving stressed and traumatized populations pulls the professionals into the physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of trauma.

Chronic Stress (CS):
Dynamics such as consistent exposure to stressors with psychological consequences that “result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system” (Baum & Polsusnzy, 1999). The consequences of unmitigated CS impact psychological wellbeing, biological health, and nonprofit effectiveness. Further, stress level is directly linked to absenteeism and temporary use of disability release (Lazaridis, K., Jovanović, J., Jovanović, J., Šarac, I., & Jovanović, S., 2017; Marzec, Scibelli, & Edington, 2015); reflect on how difficult it is for a team and an organizational when your fellow workshop facilitators, case managers, and mentors don’t show-up to serve the clients as expected.

Tip 1

Look at job descriptions for the ways that job tasks bring you and your colleagues into scenarios where VT and CS can be experienced; make this a paradigm, a lens, for understanding the why and how of VT and CS.

Tip 2

Look for constant small actions that can keep the conversations and awareness about VT and CS at the forefront of your team; there are no quick fixes for individuals and for community programming at large, but building momentum through actions is vital for a shift to occur.

Examples of Small, Constant Actions

  • Partner with specialists in nearby universities, colleges, institutes, bringing knowledge and services into your community programming team.
  • Identify no-cost or low-cost professional development opportunities focused on VT and CS.
  • Refine organizational guidelines and policies that promote mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Leaders can set the pace for an organizational shift by verbally acknowledging that they attend therapy or other therapeutic outlets to ensure their wellness.
  • Engage funders on their role in addressing the negative impact of VT and CS in among grant awardees and the community programming sector more broadly.