Vicarious Trauma and Self Care when Working with Trafficked Persons

As a service provider, you may find yourself affected by the stories you hear from a trafficked person, and may even exhibit symptoms of what’s known as vicarious trauma. Symptoms may include thinking continuously about the trafficked person’s story, feelings such as stress, guilt, and irritability, an unusual suspicion of others, and experiencing a heightened sensitivity to certain issues or topics. Taking care of yourself can reduce the risk of these symptoms and improve your ability to contribute to a trafficked person’s healing journey.

My Story: I was addicted to my trafficker, like an emotional dependency.  Every time he left the room I felt that I was having an anxiety attack and my chest felt like it would collapse. I at first… he was always there for me. I didn’t have that when I was growing up, and he made me feel he was stable and I could reply on him. But when we got in fights, I would be scared that he would never come back. Then I felt I would have nothing. A lot  of the girls who work feel this way about their trafficker. I would sit there and wonder why I would be crying if he went to the corner store. I felt messed up inside.

– Christina

The following tips help prevent vicarious trauma and address symptoms if you find yourself experiencing them:

  • Debrief with colleagues or a supervisor on a regular basis.
  • Set realistic goals, expectations, and boundaries for yourself and your clients.
  • Set aside time for reflection — spend time in nature, write in a journal, meditate.
  • Treat and reward yourself for the hard work you do.
  • Get enough rest, quiet time, and sleep.
  • Exercise moderately and often — short walks can be very helpful for coping with stress.
  • Eat healthy and drink lots of water.
  • Find appropriate outlets for difficult emotions and frustration
  • Review how you are coping — check with others to get an objective opinion.
  • Seek professional assistance if you find symptoms of vicarious trauma increase or persist.

Take a moment to reflect on your own self-care by completing this self assessment tool.


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