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Vicarious Trauma: Signs and Symptoms To Be Aware Of

June 26, 2023





Vicarious Trauma: Signs and Symptoms To Be Aware Of

Vicarious trauma is one of the most unheard-of traumatisation types that individuals can experience. And it is one that can be just as detrimental to the mind and body as common forms of PTSD. As a counsellor based in Warrington, I have first-hand experience in supporting and guiding my clients through various types of traumas, ensuring that I adapt my approach to suit the client.Today, I am going to discuss vicarious traumatisation, also known as vicarious trauma, its signs and symptoms, as well as how therapy is one of the most effective coping strategies available.

What is Vicarious Trauma?

First and foremost, it's essential to understand what vicarious trauma is and why it is caused. Vicarious trauma is caused by indirect exposure to traumatic events experienced by those around them. Most often, it is seen in those with a career in social work, counselling and emergency services. This is because individuals are frequently exposed to the traumatic experiences of others. Similarly, you can inherit a loved one's trauma too. No matter where it is derived from, dealing with trauma is one of the most challenging and hard-hitting processes. But one thing that you must remember is that vicarious trauma is not a sign of weakness or inability to cope. In fact, it is the mind's natural response to empathising with those around you who have witnessed the pain and suffering of others.

Signs and Symptoms of Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma manifests in several ways, affecting someone emotionally, physically and psychologically. And there are ways that you can identify if you or someone you know is experiencing this. Here's an insight:

1. Physical Indicators

Regarding physical signs of vicarious trauma, you may experience headaches, insomnia, chronic fatigue, muscle tension, digestive issues and an increased susceptibility to common illnesses. When dealing with trauma, your body immediately goes into stress mode, leaving you feeling drained and exhausted in most cases.

2. Emotional Indicators

Emotional outbursts, mood swings and a sense of feeling overwhelmed are all common symptoms of vicarious trauma. If you are feeling a heightened sense of sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt or irritability, this is your mind responding to how those around you feel.

3. Psychological Indicators

If you're experiencing intrusive thoughts, difficulty concentrating, flashbacks or nightmares related to the traumatic event experienced by others, this is because vicarious trauma can cause changes in one's thought patterns and beliefs. Over time, these symptoms can continue to manifest, leaving you feeling hopeless and in despair with a distorted view of the world around you.

4. Interpersonal Indicators

If your relationships are affected by a lack of trust, you are experiencing increased feelings of isolation, or you feel disconnected from those around you, this could be a sign of vicarious trauma. Once you take on the emotional load given to others through trauma, you leave little room for further emotion.

5. Behavioural Indicators

Vicarious trauma can cause one to adopt compulsive behaviours such as substance abuse or OCD. But, on the other hand, it can cause someone to avoid certain people and situations. These behaviours are coping strategies for someone feeling overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts provoked by the trauma of others.

Treatment for Vicarious Trauma

There are a number of vicarious trauma treatment options available to somebody tackling vicarious trauma. Here are a few options that may work for you:


In addition to seeking professional support, vicarious trauma and self-care practises are closely linked as a fantastic way of managing such intense emotions. By implementing your self-care routine, you will begin to manage stress, build resilience, and maintain your emotional well-being. Whether you find self-care through exercise, a hobby or surrounding yourself with people that are good for your mind, it's whatever makes you feel the most content.

Boundary Setting

Setting boundaries is so important when dealing with trauma. By establishing your limits, you can prevent burnout and ensure that you prioritise your recovery and self-care. For instance, ensuring that you are not taking on further emotional hardship from your loved ones so that you can focus on addressing your own. However, this is regarding both professional and personal boundaries, as the more you take on emotionally, the harder it will be to unload.

EMDR & Person-Centred Therapy

Lastly, EMDR Therapy could be the answer to a clear and clarified mindset. As a specialist counsellor, I have witnessed first-hand how invaluable EMDR approaches are in the face of trauma. By allowing my clients to reprogram their minds, I can help them to better understand and process what they have been through. Person-Centred Therapy can also help them accept who they are as a person and why they have inhabited another's trauma.I can offer guidance, empathy and support when needed while the client discovers how their mind works and what they can do to combat the symptoms caused by vicarious trauma. It is a journey for both parties and one that is highly effective for somebody who may feel they often lose control of their emotional state.

Get in touch today

While vicarious trauma is a natural response to being exposed to the trauma experienced by others, it is essential that it is dealt with as soon as possible so that it doesn't do further harm down the line. I am committed to helping my clients see the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long the tunnel may be.If you'd like to book a session with me or have an initial chat about how you're feeling, email me at or Book a Session here.

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