Understanding and Addressing Vicarious Trauma (Reading Course) | Headington Institute Skip to content

Understanding and Addressing Vicarious Trauma (Reading Course)

Humanitarian workers often assist people who have been victimized. They work in and with communities that have been devastated by natural forces or conflict. They themselves are sometimes the targets of violence. As a result of all these things, humanitarian workers are likely to experience lasting psychological and spiritual changes in the way that they see themselves and the world.

Some of these changes can be positive. Humanitarian workers often talk about how witnessing (and sometimes sharing in) the sufferings of people they are there to help has led to personal changes they appreciate – such as more compassion and gratitude, and a deeper understanding of what they value in their own lives and why. 

However, some of the changes that can come from witnessing and experiencing suffering can be more problematic, leaving potentially permanent scars. Humanitarian workers also talk of how their work can sometimes leave them feeling numb, disconnected, isolated, overwhelmed, and depressed. Many talk of how their deepest spiritual beliefs have been challenged by their work. While some feel their faith (however they define that) has been strengthened by the work, some feel they lose their faith or spiritual grounding as a result of things they see as a humanitarian worker.

This reading course and workbook are designed to help aid workers reflect on vicarious trauma and how it may impact their lives.

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