What is Secondary Trauma?

Secondary trauma refers to the behaviors and emotions that naturally result from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by another or the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a person who is suffering or who has experienced trauma. ​

​These effects not only negatively impact staff personally, but they can also negatively affect job performance. According to a study of more than 1,100 child welfare staff, secondary trauma negatively impacted a staff’s professional satisfaction and efficacy. Secondary trauma has a direct effect on a staff’s intent to leave their agency. When combined with an unsupportive or toxic organizational culture, the negative effects are further exacerbated.

Symptoms of Secondary Trauma

It is important to be aware of secondary trauma and recognize the symptoms and potential effects, including:

  • Increased cynicism or seriousness​
  • Sensitivity to violence​
  • Overwhelming grief or despair​
  • Intrusive thoughts​
  • Chronic fatigue​
  • Emotional exhaustion​
  • Anger​
  • Fearfulness​
  • Shame​
  • Physical illness​
  • Absenteeism and turnover

Tips for Mitigating Secondary Trauma

In any helping profession, secondary trauma is inevitable. However, there are things you and your organization can do to help mitigate the effects of secondary trauma.


For Individuals:


  • Find someone to talk to​
  • Be patient with yourself​
  • Know that your pain is normal​
  • Practice good self-care​


  • Blame others​
  • Act rashly ​
  • Work longer and harder​
  • Self-medicate​
  • Neglect your own needs and interests​

For Organizations:

  • Foster resilience​
    • Set realistic expectations​
    • Connect with colleagues​
    • Promote a culture of self-care​
    • Encourage staff to set boundaries​
  • Provide down-time​
  • Modify the environment ​
    • Create a more welcoming and aesthetically pleasing space for staff ​
    • Find places other than the office to meet, if possible, to give staff a change of scene​
  • Rotate challenging cases and diversify job tasks​
  • Try to allow for flexible schedules​


Additional Resources

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