Nurse raises awareness about vicarious trauma

Helping others:  South Western Sydney Local Health District Drug Health Nurse 
Ravina Raidu won two awards at a recent conference.

Helping others: South Western Sydney Local Health District Drug Health Nurse Ravina Raidu won two awards at a recent conference.

Do you know what vicarious trauma is? You are not alone if you answered no. 

“Many people who work in the drug and alcohol sector have never heard of the term vicarious trauma and they don’t necessarily know the signs to look out for,” said South Western Sydney Local Health District drug health nurse Ravina Raidu.

“People don’t notice it happening until you’ve actually changed – it’s so subtle.”

So what is it?

In simple terms, Ms Raidu said it was like trying to pour from an empty cup.

For example, when drug and alcohol nurses and doctors aren’t able to show that initial enthusiastic empathy for patients.

Some of the symptoms include increased anxiety or stress levels, workplace interpersonal conflicts and a breakdown in a clinician’s physical health.

“People talk about burn-out and compassion fatigue, but they don’t realise it is actually precursors to vicarious trauma,” she said. “Sometimes we blame ourselves that we’re not feeling enough empathy or that we’re giving enough to our clients. We need to make sure that we are not being too hard on ourselves and that we are getting help when we need help.”

It’s why she has started a one-woman campaign to help her colleagues recognise the signs.

Many people who work in the drug and alcohol sector have never heard of vicarious trauma and they don’t necessarily know what to look for.

Ravina Raidu, South Western Sydney Local Health District

She’s come up with a poster highlighting the signs to look out for and what people can do if they think they, or someone else, may be suffering from vicarious trauma.

The poster is part of a district-wide awareness campaign at Fairfield, Liverpool and Campbelltown hospitals and is the result of a literary review to attempt to identify, understand and determine the cause of various trauma and its effect on nurses working with drug and alcohol clients.

“I thought there would be a lot more research than I found,” she said. “Often in the articles I read the term vicarious trauma was used interchangeably with burnout and compassion fatigue.

“Hopefully, doctors and nurses will be more alert and put processes in place to identify and appropriately manage the signs of vicarious trauma.”

Her work to highlight the signs and causes of vicarious trauma was recognised at the recent Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs conference where she won two awards.