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Immersion in Suffering - Its Effects on Staff and Organizations

By Melissa Brunner

Being a trauma professional, social worker, front-line worker or first responder was hard enough before the global pandemic but findings from a recent study indicate that “social workers are reporting higher than national estimates of PTSD, indicating a greater need for more emotional support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the significance and severity of the pandemic, it is essential that organizations provide resources for both immediate and ongoing support for the emotional well-being of their employees.” I think this rings true for more than social workers.

The word that’s often used in my circle to describe the pandemic is amplifier. Helping professionals are not only regularly assisting others who are in crisis but they are also simultaneously experiencing the stress of the pandemic in their personal lives- this is a heavy load. This dual exposure can increase their risk of secondary trauma and burnout especially if leadership is unable or unsure of how to provide needed support to their employees. Many organizations are vividly seeing the impact of vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress and burnout.

Here are 9 impacts on organizations:

Although there are personal strategies that helping professional can employ in their lives to help combat vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, empathic strain and burnout, an impactful place to start is at the leadership level. Organizations need to become trauma informed. For leaders to create the supportive culture that is a necessity for employees, we start with the four R’s:

Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for discovery

Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff and others involved in the system

Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices.

Seek to actively resist re-traumatization.

One strategy is for leaders to reframe the conversation around trauma. This work is an occupational hazard. The effects of working in the field of trauma are just as real as hazmat professionals being exposed to toxic chemicals. Employees are educated as to the dangers of the work AND they are given protective gear and processes to employ. It should be no different for front line professionals in the trauma field.

Secondly, adapting strategies to foster the well-being of employees and the well-being of the organization is a priority. Workers cannot serve others well if they are serving from an unhealthy place. They could actually do harm.

Lastly, we must reinforce that none of us do this work alone. It effects the whole team and organization. As Brian C. Miller, author and leader in the field of secondary traumatic stress, once said, “Cases are carried by each of us and all of us”.

Is your organization experiencing the weight of the pandemic on already taxed helping professionals? Reach out today so we can discuss customized training options and strategies for your staff and organization to thrive.

Warm Regards,


Founder | Trainer & Consultant

Inner Circle, LLC



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