Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress


With the recent environmental disasters of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, and the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, one thing is very clear: many people in this country are hurting right now. Even if you were not directly affected by these events, you most likely followed them on the news and witnessed the destruction, devastation, and heartache of the people who were. Because of this, you may be experiencing what is referred to as Secondary Traumatic Stress.

What is Secondary Traumatic Stress

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) occurs when someone hears about the firsthand traumatic experience of someone else. Some symptoms of STS include hypervigilance, hopelessness, guilt, social withdrawal, anger, cynicism, sleeplessness, fear, and disconnection. In a sense, people may lose their faith in humanity or their sense of security that “things will be okay.”

Secondary Traumatic Stress Coping Mechanisms

It is very important that we take care of ourselves in the aftermath of devastating and tragic events. If you feel you have been negatively impacted by the recent events or that you may have even developed STS, working with a therapist can help you process the traumatic events you heard about. Seeing a counselor who has training in evidence-based practices for clients with trauma increases the chances you will have a positive experience with the therapeutic process. Some evidence-based practices for trauma include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Prolonged Exposure therapy (PE) to help you work through your trauma. Counselors may also teach you coping skills, like mindfulness, to help ground you in the present moment. If you are interested in working with a counselor to help process your trauma, call The Light Program today.

Another way to begin to heal is by helping others. Feeling like you are doing something to help those directly affected by the traumatic experience can be a good way of alleviating feelings of helplessness. Some ideas of helping out include raising money for survivors, donating blood, or organizing a clothes drive to send items to those in need. You can find out details about how to help those directly affected by the recent traumatic events by searching online. Similarly, helping out in your own community can help to alleviate feelings of hopelessness, especially if you begin volunteering with a group. Seeing others who want to better the world the way you do can restore your faith in humanity.




Baird, K., & Kracen, A. (2006). Vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress: A research synthesis. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19(2), 181-188.

Figley, C.R. (1995). Compassion fatigue as secondary traumatic stress disorder: An overview. In C.R. Figley (Ed.), Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized (pp. 1-20). New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel.

Rothschild, B. (2006). Help for the helper: The psychophysiology of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. New York: WW Norton & Co.