Screening and self-assessment
Screening is a secondary prevention strategy and many employers screen for workplace stress and offer health coaching, stress management and related programs when appropriate.9 Forensic workers responding to massive disasters undergo screening for stress-related disorders to monitor emergence of negative mental health outcomes.10 Similarly, offering self-assessment and screening tools for vicarious trauma raises awareness of personal strengths and vulnerabilities and establishes a baseline of symptoms that could be monitored over time.
There are a number of standardized tools that can assess symptoms of vicarious trauma (Table). Most of these standardized tools were developed to measure other work-impact concepts and has not been psychometrically validated to assess vicarious trauma. However, they have been adapted for research purposes and accepted as screening tools for vicarious trauma. They are not meant to be diagnostic tools. Rather these tools can used to monitor changes in symptomatology longitudinally. Self-administered tools available electronically increases access and privacy and encourages staff participation.
Enhance personal and professional supports
Social support, both personal and professional, is a protective factor and has been associated with a decreased risk of vicarious trauma. Consultation with colleagues and peers has been shown to reduce feelings of isolation and increase feelings of efficacy.4,11 The role of managers and supervisors is key in enhancing staff support. Managers can use one-on-one supervision to provide support for challenging cases and manage caseloads, ensuring a balance of volume and complexity of trauma patients for each clinician. Research has shown an association between a high caseload of trauma victims and an increased risk of symptoms of vicarious trauma.12-14 Supervisors can also assist staff in the development and implementation of self-care plans. A survey of therapists and hospital workers revealed that while the majority believed that self-care strategies can reduce the risk of vicarious trauma, very few actually reported using the strategies.
Research has shown an association between a high caseload of trauma victims and an increased risk of symptoms of vicarious trauma.12-14 Managers can use one-on-one supervision to provide support for challenging cases and manage caseload, ensuring a balance of volume and complexity of trauma patients for each clinician. Supervisors can also assist staff in the development and implementation of self-care plans. A survey for therapists and hospital workers revealed that while the majority believed that self-care strategies can reduce the risk of vicarious trauma, very few reported actually practicing the strategies.15
Supportive organizational culture that build resilience
Primary prevention strategies that build resilience begin with the alignment of organizational values with an individual’s goals and values. These values solidify a culture of strong communication, ethical management practices, and visible leadership support.9 Incorporating professional well-being in the organization’s mission and vision and adopting the value of personal, family and work life balance is foundational in guiding behaviors that promote resilience in the workplace.
Dr Quitangon is Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine and Medical Director, Community Healthcare Network, New York, NY. Dr Quitangon reports that she receives royalties from Routledge for her book, Vicarious Trauma and Disaster Mental Health: Understanding Risks and Promoting Resilience.
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