What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?

This video describes the concept of secondary traumatic stress. It’s important to understand that secondary traumatic stress is way that somebody can develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or meet the full criteria of posttraumatic stress disorder. There are a lot of other terms that mean something similar or even the same as secondary traumatic stress. For example, compassion fatigue is generally thought of as an interchangeable term. We also see vicarious trauma, which is similar but it’s not really exactly the same thing. There’s more of a cognitive component to vicarious trauma. Sometimes we hear the term burnout, but burnout applies to a phenomenon that affects individuals from every field, not just individuals who hear details of traumatic experiences. Somebody can burnout in part due to secondary trauma, but it’s a separate construct. Secondary traumatic stress by itself is not a mental health disorder. The mental health disorder associated with it would be posttraumatic stress disorder. Secondary traumatic stress can affect mental health professionals, and that’s the group I’m really talking about here in this video, however, it can also affect individuals from other fields like first responders and medical professionals. To understand secondary traumatic stress its first important to understand the first part of the definition of posttraumatic stress disorder as we see in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, (DSM). This is the section that contains a qualifying trauma. We know from the DSM in order for an experience to qualify as a traumatic event it must be related to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. It also must meet one of four symptom criteria in that same section: directly experiencing a traumatic, witnessing a traumatic event happening to somebody else, learning about traumatic event that occurred to a close family member or close friend as long as that traumatic event was violent or accidental, and experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of a traumatic event. If a mental health professional provides services via video conferencing and they’re not face-to-face with the client, this still qualifies under criterion for because it’s work-related. The consequences of secondary traumatic stress include impairment, distressing memories, dreams, flashbacks, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, negative beliefs, negative emotional states, difficulty sleeping, and avoiding reminders of a traumatic experience. This last symptom in particular is quite easy to connect because you could picture a mental health professional who just doesn’t want to hear any more details about a trauma, so therefore they’re not really available to listen to the client as would be most helpful. These symptoms don’t just have a cost in terms of suffering for the mental health professional, they can also impair counseling or therapeutic performance. There are many forms of self-care that can address some of these symptoms we see with secondary traumatic stress and posttraumatic stress disorder including adjusting the work schedule, or adjusting what types of presentations somebody works with, and seeking mental health therapy.

Source: Youtube