From Vicarious Trauma to Transformation

I’ve just got back from delivering a 2 day training course with Eleanor Longden on Abuse, Trauma and Dissociation, to 35 mental health professionals in Shrewsbury. I was really struck by people’s willingness and commitment to staying with some really difficult material. We spoke about the importance of having good support and the need to take really good care of ourselves when working directly with trauma, to protect us from the effects of vicarious traumatization.

Vicarious trauma, the process of change that happens because you care about other people who have been hurt, and feel committed or responsible to helping them, can lead to changes in your psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being. When you identify with the pain of people who have endured terrible things, you bring their grief, fear, anger, and despair into your own awareness and experience. Your commitment and sense of responsibility can lead to high expectations and eventually contribute to your feeling burdened, overwhelmed, and perhaps hopeless. Vicarious trauma, like experiencing trauma directly, can deeply impact the way you see the world and your deepest sense of meaning and hope. Vicarious traumatisation is not the responsibility of clients. Organisations that provide trauma-related services bear a responsibility to create policies and work settings that facilitate staff (and therefore client) well-being. Each trauma worker is responsible for self-care, working reflectively and engaging in regular, frequent, trauma-informed supervision. There are many ways of addressing vicarious traumatisation. All involve awareness, balance, and connection.

Beyond vicarious traumatisation lies vicarious transformation. This is the process of transforming one’s vicarious trauma, leading to spiritual growth. Vicarious transformation is a process of active engagement with the negative changes that come about through trauma work. It can be recognized by a deepened sense of connection with all living beings, a broader sense of moral inclusion, a greater appreciation of the gifts in one’s life, and a greater sense of meaning and hope. Vicarious transformation is a process, not an endpoint or outcome. If we can embrace, rather than fending off, other people’s extraordinary pain, our humanity is expanded. In this receptive mode, our caring is deepened. People who have suffered trauma and abuse can feel that we are allowing them to affect us. This reciprocal process conveys respect. We learn from trauma survivors that people can endure horrible things and carry on. This knowledge is a gift we can pass along to others.

Due to popular demand we will be offering further courses this year on Abuse, Trauma and Dissociation in Nottingham, Cork and in London. See events section for further information.

8 replies
  1. Mims
    Mims says:

    Dear Jacqui, Love the new website. I feel really moved by the blog on vicarious trauma. Nothing has ever summed up for me so well – what I feel has happened to me. Am going to show it to my shrink on friday and tell her I would like it to be considered my new diagnosis!?! I look forward to seeing you in Sheffield next week. Hugs Mims

    • Jacqui
      Jacqui says:

      Hi Mims,

      Very pleased to hear that you like my new website – me too! Glad to hear too that the blog on Vicarous Trauma moved you and resonated with your experience. You might want to check out the work of Babette Rothschild who has written extensively on the impact of trauma – check out
      Help for the Helper: The Psychophysiology of Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma.



  2. Liz B
    Liz B says:

    hi Jacqui. I see you mention doing training around trauma work in Cork. I would like to know more and maybe I can come along.
    I was at a voice hearing workshop you gave a few years ago and was very moved by your work. Would like to do more training with you.
    I completely get what you say about trauma being so important and unacknowledged by many mental health professionals.
    I have been on my journey of recovery from stuff that happened years ago and know how important it us to find ways to deal with trauma.
    Keep up the amazing work you do.

    • Jacqui
      Jacqui says:

      Hi Liz,

      Thanks for your message – and for your appreciation of my work. You are so right that it is essential for services to become more trauma informed so that they actually help rather than further harm people!

      Eleanor Longden and I will be running a 2 day course in May in Cork at the University. As far as I am aware, it is only open to staff of the Cork mental health services. However, I will be also speaking at and running a workshop at the Cork Recovery Conference on November 16 and 17 2011 organised by the Irish Network of Critical Voices in Mental Health – are you familiar with them at all? If not, they are definitely worth linking up with – They are doing some great work –!/home.php?sk=group_134596593263062

      Anyhow, hopefully see you in Cork sometime soon…

      All the best,


  3. *Polly
    *Polly says:

    Thanks for leading me to your new amazing site.
    Your voice hearing days and training you delivered has helped me understand and listen to my voices & hallucinations etc, I cope better than I ever did.
    I’m now working with others in our area to set and facilitate voice hearers meetings, so more people can benifit from your great understanding and training.
    Keep up the great work you do and hope to meet you again soon.
    Love Polly Xx

  4. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    Lovely to hear from you Polly and especially to hear that the talks and training have helped you to listen to, understand and cope better with your voices – that’s so great! I am also delighted to hear that the Hearing Voices Network is developing so rapidly in the Middlesbrough area – that’s fabulous news.

    You keep up the great work too and hope to see you again soon…

    All best wishes,



  5. Ste
    Ste says:

    So glad to have discovered your blog. I’m a mature student in my final year of university and I’m writing my dissertation on VT – your blog is proving to be enormously helpful! Thank you!



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  1. […] retreat, psychotherapist Ina Moon helped us reframe the idea of vicarious trauma to think of it as vicarious transformation or vicarious resilience. Rather than focusing on the detrimental toll that taking care of others […]

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