Responding constructively to work-related vicarious trauma

Module introduction

Additional Videos
The impact of trauma on ICU staff(3:22)Video transcript
I see people suffer and I feel it (3:22)Video transcript

People who work in ICU can absorb a lot of trauma, and this is both a good and a bad thing. But there is no doubt that the intensity of ICU can weigh you down sometimes and we can never predict how it will impact us or how we will react”. - ICU Nurse

As someone who works in an ICU, you are part of a highly specialized team that saves lives. Most likely, you derive immense personal meaning from your work.

Along with the rewards of this work, there are also costs. The costs are well established in the professional literature focused on health care provider grief and burnout. The ICU has been described as a place where you’re working “at the threshold,” suggesting that everyone has their limits. You are a human being before all else and you may discover that either your body or your psyche cannot sustain high levels of stress indefinitely. 

Clinicians and professionals who work in ICU often experience vicarious trauma, (also called compassion distress and secondary traumatic stress) referring to the psychological impact of exposure to trauma in the course of one’s professional practice. Given the intensity and the life and death experiences of your everyday work, the potential for vicarious trauma is enhanced. 

Is this you?

If you can relate to the questions below, you may be feeling the effects of vicarious trauma.

Do you…

Feel significant regret about decisions about medical interventions (undertaken or not)?

Feel excessively angry, frustrated or upset when interventions don’t have the desired result?

Feel preoccupied that you or the team could have or should have done more?

Feel an especially close bond to the patient or family?

The emotional toll of working in ICU

By completing this module, you will:

  • Learn the symptoms of vicarious trauma.
  • Discover ways in which grief and trauma can impact you.
  • Identify clinical situations in the ICU that could lead to vicarious trauma.
  • Understand how to work with your vulnerabilities.
  • Establish constructive responses to work-related grief and trauma.