In the course of working hard to make a difference in the lives of Survivors of Torture, treatment programs often overlook, or do not know how to recognize and respond to the pervasive impact of this work on staff and the organization. While individual and professional self-care can help to reduce the effects of the “costs of caring,” organizational culture plays a key role in this process.

Direct services providers may be most at risk, but leadership should be mindful that others can be affected as well. And while systems for monitoring vicarious or secondary trauma are (or should be) in place for direct services providers at centers and programs, those systems are generally not in place for other staff – another reason for leadership to be mindful.

This section of the website presents information about how the nature of work with survivors of torture can influence staff and organizational well-being, and shares resources for individuals and organizational leadership to prevent Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma.

Physicians for Human Rights: Watch their Science-driven Solutions for Combating COVID-19 webinars

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Science-driven Solutions for Combating COVID-19: Mental Health Impacts with Dr. Gail Saltz and Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz

On April 2, 2020, in the third installment of their ongoing webinar series, “Science-driven Solutions for Combating COVID-19,” psychiatrists and PHR board members Drs. Gail Saltz and Kerry Sulkowicz held a discussion on the mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. This discussion focuses on tips for self-care as we adapt to the new norms of physical distancing, working from home, and as some of us face anxieties related to the uncertainty of the pandemic. Watch their

Preventing Vicarious Trauma: What Counselors Should Know When Working with Trauma Survivors

Trippany, R.L., White Kress, V.E., & Wilcoxon, S.A. (2004). Preventing Vicarious Trauma: What Counselors Should Know When Working with Trauma Survivors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82 (Winter), 31-37. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6678.2004.tb00283.x.

Abstract: Counselors in all settings work with clients who are survivors of trauma. Vicarious trauma, or counselors developing trauma reactions secondary to exposure to clients' traumatic experiences, is not uncommon. The purpose of this article is to describe vicarious trauma and summarize the recent research literature related to this construct.

Responding to secondary traumatic stress: A pilot study of torture treatment programs in the United States

Akinsulure-Smith, A.M., Keatley, E., & Rasmussen, A. (2012). Responding to Secondary Traumatic Stress: A Pilot Study of Torture Treatment Programs in the United States. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25 (2), 232-235. doi: 10.1002/jts.21684. 

Abstract: Providers who care for torture survivors may be at risk for secondary traumatic stress, yet there has been little documentation of the effects of repeated exposure to traumatic issues on their emotional health or exploration of the support systems and resources available to address their emotional needs.

Secondary Trauma and Local Mental Health Professionals in Post Conflict Sierra Leone

Akinsulure-Smith, A.M. & Keatley, E. (2013). Secondary Trauma and Local Mental Health Professionals in Post Conflict Sierra Leone. International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, 36 (2), 125-135. doi: 10.1007/s10447-013-9197-5. 

Abstract: This pilot study explores the impact of secondary stress on the emotional well-being of local mental health professionals (N = 44) in Sierra Leone, a country recovering from a brutal civil war, while examining the types of training and support offered to these professionalsby their organizations.

Serving Survivors of Torture: Attending to Vicarious Trauma and Enhancing Vicarious Resilience

Literature Related to Vicarious Trauma

Comprehensive bibliography compiled by Beth Hudnall Stamm: Stamm, B.H. (2010, November). Comprehensive Bibliography Of The Effect Of Caring For Those Who Have Experienced Extremely Stressful Events and Suffering.

The National Center for PTSD’s PILOTS database is a great source for traumatic stress literature:

Baker EK. Caring for ourselves: A therapist’s guide to personal and professional well-being. Washington, DC:  American Psychological Association; 2003.

Figley CR (ed). Compassion fatigue: Coping

The Science of Empathy, Empathic Reflection, and Empathic Regulation in Clinical Care

Scientific studies of the clinical impact of empathy have mushroomed over the past decade. The neurosciences have been linking the brain to social behaviors. For many, empathic listening to the trauma stories of torture survivors is seen as being at the heart of therapy. This webinar presents a brief overview of the history and science of empathy. The discovery of the biological basis of empathy "the mirror neurons” will be discussed.