Coping with trauma

Sector specific resources

This episode of Beyond Blue’s Not Alone podcast series hears from Cliff Overton, a CFA firefighter who suffered trauma after witnessing death and devastation on an incomprehensible scale during Black Saturday. However, instead of acknowledging the trauma he had been exposed to, Cliff buried his emotions.  He suffered guilt from feeling the inability to get the job done. In this episode, Cliff tells his inspiring story of coming to terms with his trauma, and ultimately, growing from it

Workers in the emergency services are routinely exposed to potentially traumatic events. Most people recover with the help of family and friends, but there are effective treatments for those needing extra support.  Trauma and the Emergency Services is a booklet by Phoenix Australia which has advice on how to look after yourself, look after colleagues and where you can to get help. For information and links to their resources about PTSD click here.

Traumatic events leave an indelible mark on many people – from individuals, to families, to emergency service providers, to whole communities, even an entire nation. This podcast by Dr Rob Gordon and Anne Leadbeater will help you better understand the impact of trauma on people’s lives, different ways to move forward, and helping others with their recovery.

The US based Centres of Disease Control (CDC) have a site with information about steps first responders can take to prevent and manage the stress of witnessing personal suffering, intense workloads, making life or death situations, risking personal harm and separating from family to do the job.  Information includes things you can do to prepare for a response, understanding and identifying risk during response including knowing signs of burnout and secondary traumatic stress.  This page also lists self-care techniques, how to get support from team members, things to do after the response.

The US based National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has developed information about stress from traumatic incident including: symptoms of stress (physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioural); recommendations to monitor and maintain on site health; and recommendations to maintain health following the incident.

Trauma-Informed Design

This article by Neha Gill (Dec 2019) looks at the why and how of trauma-Informed design.  Though general, these principles have the potential to buffer emergency management workers from stress. Trauma-informed design is about creating physical spaces (like workplaces) to promote safety, wellbeing and healing and it is important because “the environment has an impact on attitude, mood and behaviour and so, affects identity, worth and dignity”.

Vicarious Trauma

Overcoming compassion fatigue: A Practical Resilience Workbook is a plain language toolkit by Teater and Ludgate (2014) packed with info, tools, scales and measures to help you, or help others, identify and respond to vicarious trauma.  Some features that could be of use: a chapter on cognitive behavioral approaches; self assessment tools for detection; strategies and acts for intervention, and all importantly, a chapter on prevention.

This Vicarious Trauma Fact Sheet by the American Counseling Association gives information on how to identify signs of ‘vicarious trauma’, also known as:

  • compassion fatigue
  • secondary traumatic stress
  • secondary victimization

Vicarious trauma should not be confused with “burnout”.  It associated with the “cost of caring” for others. It is the emotional residue of exposure that first responders, ESTA call takers and others who hear traumatic stories and bear witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror of others.

General information

SuperFriend has created a booklet for those experiencing grief and loss.  It including It contains resources including information about loss and how to cope with the two worlds of loss (the ‘new’ and ‘old’) as well as how to get, and how to receive help.