Types of Trauma- Secondary Trauma

Secondary trauma occurs when someone listens empathically to another person’s account of an event where the individual’s life was threatened, they were somehow violated, or they were at the mercy of another individual. Exposure to trauma victims can cause well-meaning people (even mental health professionals) to become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, shame, rage, and a sense that the world is not a safe place.  People who habitually hear about the horrific experiences of others can develop PTSD-like symptoms such as suppressing emotions, nightmares, problems making decisions, apathy, social isolation, fatigue, and health related stress reactions.

Secondary trauma can be associated with countertransference but they are not interchangeable terms.  Countertransference occurs when a therapist reacts to a client in a particular manner because of unconscious or unresolved issues on the part of the therapist.  Secondary trauma can be seen as a natural reaction to hearing emotionally charged stories about appalling situations. It only becomes problematic when the individual fixates on the event or is unable to perform their duties in one or all spheres of their lives. Alternate terms for secondary trauma are compassion fatigue, Secondary PTSD, vicarious traumatization, and co-vicitimization. 


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