I looked at a notification on my phone this morning, and saw another school shooting. My chest drops, another national tragedy. More families going through unimaginable loss. My heart goes out to the families in Florida. Through the media exposure we experience to a lesser degree these events. This exposure is the core to what is now known as secondary trauma. Because of recent events I felt compelled to write on secondary trauma and ways we can protect ourselves.
Secondary trauma refers to PTSD symptoms associated with at least one indirect exposure to traumatic material. This includes media coverage, second hand accounts of traumatic events, and television reenactments. There have even been reports of secondary trauma experiences from watching fictional movies with triggering content. There are no defined criteria to why someone may experience secondary trauma or not.
Symptoms of secondary trauma include, fear, hyper vigilance, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, depression, nightmares, and obsessive thoughts about the event. Those exposed to repeated trauma narratives are more likely to experience secondary trauma, but anyone can experience these symptoms.
Coping with secondary trauma involves the ABC’s of psychological resiliency and healing.
Awareness: Knowing our own trauma narratives. It’s important to know what you may be prone to be triggered to. Someone who has an experience of domestic violence, may experience secondary trauma hearing others recount traumatic stories, or watching images of domestic violence in the news or on TV.
Know signs that you’re feeling triggered, and know what helps you calm down. Have on hand things that help when you’re feeling stressed. I recommend having a self-care list so you can quickly access an effective coping skill if you feel something you heard is impacting you more than you would expect.
Balance: As much as possible balance out the type of material you are exposed to. If you are seeing a lot of negativity in the news, find a source of information which is more optimistic. Set clear boundaries with work, and with others. Set limits to what you are willing to expose yourself to. Don’t expose yourself to negative imagery or discussion right before going to bed, give yourself a buffer to focus on optimism and things which give you hope.
Connection: This is an essential piece to any mental and emotional healing. Don’t go through your experiences alone. Talk with others about what you have seen/heard and be willing to hear their feedback. Debrief after difficult events, find people you connect to and talk about the impact those events had. Develop support systems, find like minded people to talk with. Find mentors who have gone through similar experiences and find ways that they’ve coped in the past. Don’t allow yourself to go through struggles alone.
Because secondary trauma is so common, and talked about so little, Stepstone connect has developed several services for support and care for anyone experiencing secondary trauma. These services include:
- Specialized treatment for first responders. For the men and women who are the first to rush into traumatic scenes we offer specialized individual and group therapy services.
- Care giver support groups. Family members caring for a loved one, therapists, nurses, and other caring professions are exposed to traumatic events daily. Often, they can seem to be normalized, until the secondary trauma symptoms begin to emerge. We offer specialized therapy and therapy groups for care givers.
- Family services, we offer specialized family groups and individual therapy for family members who are either in care giving roles or have a loved one struggling. Our goal is to give support to family members with a loved one in treatment so they also are getting their needs met. This enables them to more effectively care for their loved one through their own healing.
- Therapists who specialize in trauma and effective interventions to those exposed to traumatic events either directly or indirectly.
If you or a loved one are feeling the effects of secondary trauma experiences, call or email to schedule a session to talk with a therapist about what you are going through and see what they might recommend is the best course of action. As our nation experiences these horrible tragedies, we need to come together to offer support to each other, create connection, and remember that we can experience healing through our shared experiences. In times of tragedy, take care of yourselves and each other.