The Cost of Caring:
Secondary Traumatic Stress and the Impact of Working with High-Risk Children and Families


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Lesson 2: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and Secondary Trauma

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Secondary Trauma: The Need for Leadership

The supervisor in any system is in a pivotal position to assist co-workers in preventing the development of secondary trauma. To be effective in their role as unit leader, supervisors must be able to handle stress well themselves while providing encouragement and emotional support to their workers. Supervisors need to be aware of the extent to which their workers have become separated from the original meaning and purpose of their work. When the work demands exceed the worker’s endurance and their ability to cope, they are at an increased risk for developing secondary trauma.

It is imperative that the supervisor representing the agency be responsive to the unique skills, needs, stresses and values of the professionals working for them. He/she must set a good example by modeling good communication, providing support and feedback and ensuring variety in the workload and autonomy in the workplace. More specifically, they should assist workers in establishing boundaries between themselves and their clients, provide them with an opportunity to "talk" about how they have been impacted by the trauma they encounter in their work lives, and assist them in recognizing the need to find balance in their work and personal lives.

In the event that a worker feels distraught or emotionally overwhelmed because of their involvement in a particularly difficult or series of difficult cases, they should assist and encourage the worker to seek counseling outside of the agency. The supervisor should know that it is very normal for a worker to exhibit some short-term problems (e.g. sleeping, eating, lack of enthusiasm) following their involvement in a difficult case. However, should this condition persist for more than a month it is imperative that the worker get additional outside help from a psychotherapist or other professional with training and experience in this area.


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