On the Fringe of Darkness: Understanding Secondary Trauma

*This is an undergraduate project for The Honors College at Eastern Michigan University.*

What is secondary trauma? Is secondary trauma real? How can we prevent the occurrence of secondary trauma? Can we prevent it or are we to accept it and learn to properly manage it?

Secondary trauma refers to being traumatized by the disturbing stories of others or by traumatic data; the individual suffering from secondary trauma has been negatively impacted by the exposure to trauma through someone or something else. For example, a journalist covering a news story on violent murders or a counselor who works with clients who have endured violence – these individuals can be traumatized by distressing data or the agonizing stories of others, particularly if the exposure is repetitive.

It is real. It happens. As humans, the majority of us experience feelings of empathy and sympathy – it is part of what makes us human! – and these normal reactions to another person’s anguish can result in our own personal pain. Self-care is vital for professionals with a higher probability of traumatic exposure – those who are employed in counseling, journalism, medicine, criminal justice, ministry, psychology, social work, and more – and fearless self-assessments are imperative as well.

We need to help individuals avoid becoming destroyed by darkness, by service, by sacrifice, by being exposed to darkness and being wounded by it. As a society, it is imperative for us to understand trauma and secondary trauma, to recognize secondary trauma when it occurs and work to accept it and manage it. We do not want the helpers to be harmed.


1. Be aware
2. Build a strong support system
3. Diversify work
4. Take breaks
5. Self-care

Trauma and grief have the ability to overpower an individual. If you are experiencing a crisis, please call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You do not have to struggle alone.

Victoria Anne Rife

David M. Rife

“Glimmer Of Hope” by Mike Leite, https://soundcloud.com/user184703805 . Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported — CC BY-SA 3.0. Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/F75T-RPX9JY

“Metaphysik” and “Constancy Part One” by Kevin MacLeod (http://incompetech.com) is part of the YouTube Audio Library (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/music) and it’s licensed under a Creative Commons license. Metaphysik by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…)
Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-…
Artist: http://incompetech.com/

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