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Recognizing and Responding to the Effects of Trauma

The National Council for Behavioral Health reports that 70% of adults in the US have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives, that’s 223.4 million people.  As Seedling mentors, we must be mindful that many of our mentees have already experienced a traumatic event affecting their everyday life. Recognizing this and responding in a caring way is essential to helping them build resilience. 

Click here for a Closer Look at Trauma and its effects.

Vicarious trauma, also known as secondary trauma, can be described as indirect exposure to a traumatic event through a first-hand account or narrative of that event. Any person who has a significant relationship with a survivor of trauma may experience secondary traumatization.  Empathy opens the doorway for mirror neurons to fire and potentially create a trauma response in the individual who is listening to the narrative. Scientists have discovered that the mirror neurons in the brain experience what we see and hear as if we are experiencing the event.  So hearing a mentee’s story may overwhelm the mentor and lead them to experience, to a lesser extent, the same feelings faced by their mentee.   Vicarious trauma typically involves a shift in the world view of the helper. To learn more, check out this fact sheet on Vicarious Trauma, from the American Counseling Association.

Seedling encourages mentors to take care of themselves.  You can begin by being mindful of your stress level or your empathy overload, and apply a little self care.  You can incorporate these easy techniques anywhere, anytime.

  • Focus on your breathing.  Breathe in for 4 seconds through your nose and breathe out for 5 through your mouth.  This slows your heart rate and has a calming effect.
  • Sit or stand taller.  Focus on your body by tensing and relaxing your muscles, stretch!
  • Wash your hands with intention.  Imagine the stress and worry flowing down the drain.  
  • Choose a mantra you can recite,  a few popular ones include:
    • With every breath, I feel myself relaxing.
    • I have control over how I feel, and I choose to feel at peace.
    • This too shall pass.
  • Visualization.  Imagine a balloon in your mind. Imagine yourself putting all of your troubles and worries inside the balloon.  Imagine yourself folding the balloon in half, and again and again until you can place it on a shelf. Imagine the balloon on the shelf and leave it there.  If you would like to revisit the contents you know where to find it.

Sources for this article:  (https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/vicarious-trauma)

A special thanks to Cari Cabanass, LPC intern and Seedling Mentor for presenting at our training.


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