Our premier Anna Bligh shed tears during a media conference. Our police commissioner was anxious in tone. My husband winced and squirmed with a tear in his eye watching the coverage. As we tuned in to watch the news each night, first thing in the morning and many times in between, we couldn’t help but be glued to the stories of the Queensland floods – images of stranded families on car roofs, entire homes strewn across muddied paddocks and stoic survivors staring despairingly down the barrel of television cameras. Seeing this level of trauma day after day, week after week, is bound to leave its mark. There is no escape. Television, websites, newspapers and social media have been awash with devastation, desolation and despondency. Those of us in the counselling and welfare professions know well what this can do. In some cases it can simply be very upsetting, but emotions that pass.

For others it can be the catalyst for a phenomenon known as vicarious trauma – something I believe we are going to see a lot of in the coming weeks and months. Therapists, crisis counsellors, emergency workers, pastoral counsellors and police officers are secondary witnesses to trauma almost every day. As we listen to our clients speak of rape, violence, car accidents, alcoholic families or memories of childhood abuse, we bear witness to their victimisation. We offer them the opportunity to let go of some of their burden, but often we can’t help but take on some of the emotional pain they carry. In simple terms this is vicarious trauma, whereby an individual is traumatised by indirect knowledge of or involvement in another person’s devastating experience. Symptoms of vicarious trauma will be different for each person as the effects are on survivors of the initial event. These feelings are completely normal when they continue for a couple of weeks. If you experience any of these signs for longer or more intensely than you expected, you may consider seeking professional help.

Crisis Support | The Courier Mail

As 2011’s events assail us with imagery of atrocity and disaster, people are beginning to talk about how exposure to this imagery via social media, often without contextualisation or filters, can bring vicarious trauma. (Longer version here)

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