The Impact of Second-Hand Trauma


These days, there seems to be no escaping disturbing news coverage of shocking events around our nation. With increasing reports of mass shootings on school campuses, in movie theaters, and most recently, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, these tragedies not only affect the families and friends of the victims, first responders, hospital workers, and law enforcement, but also the general public who are reliving these horrific incidents vicariously through the media.

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is a genuine disorder that affects individuals who did not witness the traumatic event first-hand, but was exposed to it in other ways such as their profession (clergy, counselor, emergency personnel, etc.), familiarity with someone who was impacted, or repeated exposure through the media.

The symptoms are comparable to those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other trauma disorders that may include:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Confusion
  • Intense fear
  • Hypervigilant
  • Angry outbursts
  • Sad or depressed
  • Feelings of guilt or hopelessness
  • Nightmares or sleeplessness
  • Constantly worried about death
  • Unable to focus or concentrate
  • Avoidance of public places
  • Chronic illness (i.e. headaches, stomach pain)
  • Socially withdrawn or dissociated
  • Insensitive to violence

Treatment for Second-Hand Trauma:

Knowing and understanding that second-hand trauma is a real disorder that can affect daily lives is the first step to recovery. The second step is connecting with a qualified therapist who can provide counseling along with a treatment plan to bring balance back into everyday living. With treatment, symptoms can go away as early as a few weeks. However, without counseling the symptoms can last for months or years, and morph into other types of disorders and behaviors that may include the abuse of drugs or alcohol. There are two very effective forms of treatment for second-hand trauma outlined below:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective form of treatment that can include relaxation techniques, psychological crisis management, and other special treatments as needed. Individuals are also taught coping skills and how to understand the anxiety associated with the traumatic event. Sometimes medication may also be needed to help the person deal with anxiety, depression, or agitation.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy that is used to help millions of people of all ages according to the EMDR International Association. Through EMDR, individuals can look at a traumatic event in a kinder, gentler manner by “reprocessing” the event and adding new experiences that will leave the individual with a healthier perspective, understanding, and a positive outlook.

Seek Professional Help

If you suspect that you or someone you love is suffering from second-hand trauma, please contact a qualified mental health professional who can recommend the best course of treatment after a comprehensive evaluation, and help bring balance back into life. Dr. Susan K Daniel, specializes in both EMDR and Cognitive Behavioral Treatment, and can help develop an effective treatment plan.