Understanding vicarious trauma: Exploring cumulative stress, fatigue and trauma in a frontline community service setting

Jonathan Louth, Tanya MacKay, George Karpetis, Ian Goodwin-Smith

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


Trauma cannot be wished away. It needs to be managed, worked through and monitored byworkers and clients alike. Moreover, trauma does not simply disappear when workers go home:It leaves a residual presence that can contribute to a cumulative reaction. Empathetic stress,burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma speak to a spectrum of dissociative or disjunctive effects (Killian, et al., 2017; Hernandez-Wolfe, et al.2007).Vicarious trauma is an unavoidable consequence of working with trauma survivors. For workers in the caring professions, this can mean actual harm over time. Indeed, there are workers who feel that their experiences are less ‘vicarious’ and represent direct trauma (Pack,2013). With the rapid expansion of the community services sector over the past few decades, this represents a ‘ticking timebomb’. Frontline workers are experiencing high levels of trauma that will impact their everyday lives well into the future. They represent a generation of veterans who are not returning from war, but from working within vulnerable communities and families within our cities, suburbs and regions. This situation cannot and should not be ignored.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAdelaide, South Australia
PublisherUniversity of South Australia
Commissioning bodyCentacare Catholic Family Services
Number of pages54
ISBN (Print)978-0-9944347-6-0
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameTASSE Report
PublisherThe Australian Alliance for Social Enterprise


  • trauma management
  • Vicarious trauma
  • trauma workers
  • compassion fatigue
  • burnout
  • trauma survivors
  • frontline workers


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