According to a study by the CDC, almost two thirds of participant students had at least one “adverse childhood experience,” or ACE. These ACEs are defined as different types of abuse, neglect and other household challenges. This type of trauma impacts the student, of course. But what about the student’s teachers who hear about the trauma? Researchers have found that teachers of traumatized students can experience vicarious trauma. It’s essential that schools take care of students who have experienced trauma. It’s equally important that schools support teachers in coping with vicarious trauma.
What Is Vicarious Trauma?
Vicarious trauma occurs when people have witnessed a trauma victim’s pain, fear or terror. In schools, this most often happens after a student has confided in a teacher about an ACE. Vicarious trauma can manifest as emotions, such as anger. It could also cause physical symptoms, like a headache. Likewise, it may cause teachers to be tardy or miss meetings. They may start avoiding certain students, too.
There are distinct differences between vicarious trauma and burnout. Burnout occurs over time, and a small change may improve or solve it, like a vacation. On the other hand, vicarious trauma comes on suddenly, and only specific skills can mitigate or prevent it.
Take Care of Students Who Have Experienced Trauma
Teachers often experience a feeling of helplessness when working with students who’ve experienced trauma. They may not feel equipped to help students themselves. It’s important for schools to have a solid support system in place both for students who experience trauma and their teachers. School counselors and mental health resources can help students and teachers process their emotions. Behavioral health screenings for anxiety and depression can identify students who may need help. Additionally, schools can use screen monitoring software, like LearnSafe, to detect threats of suicide and self-harm on school computers. Screening and screen monitoring can help schools make sure that vulnerable students get the help that they need.
Coping with Vicarious Trauma at School
If you find yourself in a stressful situation, keep in mind that getting upset does not help. In fact, it can make things worse. Take a break, visualize a calming place, take a few deep breaths. You can also remove yourself from the situation temporarily by going to help another student in another part of the room.
Having someone to talk to will help. This person can be a significant other, a therapist or another teacher. Confiding in another teacher is favorable for several reasons. You see that others are struggling as well, so you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you. You can also help each other brainstorm strategies on how to cope.
Keep Work at Work
When your job is a stressful one, it is very important to set up boundaries between work and home. Home should be a place for relaxing and decompressing.
If you’ve had a difficult day, take the time to sit down and write about it before you leave to go home. You can also talk it out with another teacher. Then, you can leave all of those emotions at school. You could also stop by the gym and work your frustrations out on the treadmill or weight machines.
Make Self-Care a Priority
So many teachers say that they do not have time for self-care. But this is critical. Self-care is important so that teachers can continue performing well. If you have trouble sticking to self-care, get a wellness buddy who will keep you accountable.
Vicarious trauma affects teachers adversely, just as trauma does students. However, by keeping the above tips in practice, we can make sure that our teachers reach their full potential as educators of the younger generation.
Text by Jennie Tippett