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Enhancing support systems to address vicarious trauma in professional environments

Social support plays a critical role in mitigating the impact of vicarious trauma on individuals working in professions where exposure to traumatic content is commonplace. Here we examine the importance of leveraging social networks, both personal and organisational, to address secondary stress symptoms and promote emotional resilience in professional environments. By fostering supportive relationships and networks, organisations can create environments where employees feel valued, understood, and empowered to navigate the challenges of their roles.

The Power of Social Support

Social support encompasses various forms of assistance, validation, and connection that individuals receive from others in their social networks. In the context of vicarious trauma, social support serves as a buffer against the negative effects of exposure to traumatic content, helping individuals cope with stress, process emotions, and maintain a sense of wellbeing. Both personal and organisational support systems play crucial roles in providing avenues for support and connection.

Personal Support Networks

Personal support networks, including friends, family members, and significant others, offer invaluable sources of emotional support and understanding for individuals navigating the challenges of their professional roles. Cultivating strong personal relationships and investing in meaningful connections outside of work can provide individuals with a sense of belonging, validation, and resilience in the face of vicarious trauma.

Organisational Support Structures

In addition to personal support networks, organisations play a vital role in providing support structures and resources for employees facing vicarious trauma and its aftermath. By prioritising the development of supportive organisational cultures, workplaces can create environments where employees feel safe, valued, and equipped to manage the emotional challenges of their work.

Creating a Culture of Support

Organisational support structures encompass a range of initiatives aimed at fostering a culture of support and wellbeing within the workplace. This may include implementing employee assistance programs, offering proactive and regular well check services, providing trauma-informed training, and establishing peer support networks. By investing in these resources and initiatives, organisations demonstrate a commitment to prioritising employee mental health.

Peer Support Networks

Peer support networks within the workplace offer a unique avenue for employees to connect with colleagues who understand their experiences firsthand. By facilitating peer support groups, organisations provide opportunities for individuals to share their challenges, seek guidance, and receive validation in a safe and supportive environment. Peer support networks not only offer emotional support but also promote camaraderie and solidarity among employees.

Trauma-Informed Supervision

Supervision practices that incorporate trauma-informed principles are essential for supporting employees working with vicarious trauma. By providing opportunities for reflective practice, emotional processing, and skill development, trauma-informed supervision helps employees navigate the emotional complexities of their work while minimising the risk of burnout and secondary stress symptoms. Supervisors play a crucial role in modeling healthy coping strategies and providing guidance and support to their team members.

Professional Support

Many organisations typically have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as an initial resource for professional support and counselling. However, for teams where vicarious trauma poses a recognised risk, implementing proactive well checks at regular intervals or upon identification of individuals handling particularly traumatic cases is crucial. These measures not only demonstrate a proactive approach to safeguarding employee wellbeing but also provide timely support.

By leveraging all of these support networks not only do they provide a great wellbeing buffer but also provide ample opportunity for early intervention when someone says “it’s actually starting to get to me” or a peer notices some early warning signs and says “hey I’ve noticed you’re not quite yourself, are you okay?”.