Vicarious Trauma Toolkit

Overview

The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT) is a first-of-its-kind online resource that helps guide first responder and victim service agencies in becoming vicarious trauma-informed. It contains a Compendium of Resources of nearly 500 existing and new resources including policies, research literature, training materials and links to websites, podcasts, and videos. These resources and tools can help organizations to:

  • Support agency leadership’s efforts to promote vicarious trauma response and integrate it into its culture and daily operations
  • Assess an agency’s current capacity to address vicarious trauma, identify gaps, and prioritize needs;
  • Explore and gather resources and tools to help meet identified organizational needs; and
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to address exposure to cumulative single incidents of violence and acts of mass violence and terrorism.

A tool created specifically for the VTT, the Vicarious Trauma Organizational Readiness Guide (VT-ORG), is an organizational assessment tool that measures capacity in five areas of evidence-informed organizational health. The VT-ORG is tailored for each discipline (fire, EMS, law enforcement, victim services), and comes with suggestions for various ways to implement it.  The VT-ORG is designed to yield results that can inform organizational next steps and guide exploration of the Toolkit for relevant tools to advance an agency’s vicarious trauma response. Explore the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit and see how it can help your organization become vicarious trauma-informed.

Contact OVC TTAC for questions about training or technical assistance on the toolkit:

TTAC@ovcttac.org or 1–866–682–8822

WHY THE FOCUS ON VICARIOUS TRAUMA?

It takes courage to help victims of violence, to run towards an active shooter, into a burning building hit by a plane, or to the side of a victim of gang-violence. Helping victims also puts responders at risk of harm themselves, not from bullets or fire, but from vicarious trauma. While prevalence studies of vicarious trauma (and other related terms) and its effects are rare, several findings have consistently reported that between 40% and 80% of helping professionals have experienced compassion fatigue and/or high rates of secondary trauma.

A global analysis of firefighters, ambulance personnel, police officers, search/rescue teams pooled 28 worldwide prevalence studies of PTSD, finding an overall prevalence of 10%, with ambulance personnel having the highest (14.6%). Among providers of psychosocial services to traumatized clients, a review of 15 studies found evidence of traumatic stress symptoms, disrupted cognitive schema, and general psychological distress. Organizations know vicarious trauma impacts individuals and overall service delivery to those in need. They are also aware of the related constructs of compassion fatigue and burnout as risk factors for turnover. This project’s goal was to fill this gap by delivering a nationally pilot-tested training and technical assistance online toolkit.

Agencies can use this toolkit to address vicarious trauma experienced by victim assistance professionals, law enforcement and other first responders. Feedback from diverse disciplines indicates that the Vicarious Trauma Toolkit motivates and enables agencies and organizations to become vicarious trauma-informed. Ultimately, we expect this to lessen the impact of vicarious trauma and sustain first responders and victim service providers to help the next victim who needs them.

“The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT) Project recognizes the very real impact experienced by first responders and victim service providers when responding to traumatic events and those who have experienced trauma,” said Associate Professor Beth Molnar, ScD, Principal Investigator for the VTT Project and Associate Director of the Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice at Northeastern University. “We are extremely proud of this collaborative accomplishment that will elevate the serious issue of vicarious trauma to a new level of understanding and action within first responder and victim service agencies and organizations.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR AN AGENCY OR ORGANIZATION TO BE VICARIOUS TRAUMA-INFORMED?

Vicarious Trauma (VT) is an occupational challenge for people working and volunteering in the fields of victim services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services and others due to their continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence. Exposure to trauma of others has been shown to change the worldview of these responders and can also put people and organizations at risk for a range of negative consequences (American Counseling Association, 2011; Bell, Kulkarni, & Dalton, 2003; McCann & Pearlmann, 1990; Newell & MacNeil, 2010; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995; Vicarious Trauma Institute, 2015).

A vicarious trauma-informed organization assumes the responsibility of proactively addressing the impact of vicarious trauma through policies, procedures, programs and practices.

ABOUT THE VICARIOUS TRAUMA TOOLKIT (VTT ) PROJECT

After being awarded federal Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime funding in 2014, the Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice at Northeastern University (now the Institute on Health Equity and Social Justice Research) created a first-of-its-kind and state-of-the-field online resource for victim assistance, emergency medical services, fire and law enforcement organizations to address vicarious trauma. Literature and resource materials were widely researched, compiled and vetted, and a rudimentary Toolkit was pilot-tested by the intended disciplines in seven communities with diverse demographics in all regions of the United States. Click here to read more about the pilot sites and their locations.

The national, interdisciplinary Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT) Project Team worked to ensure that the VTT is the most comprehensive and highest quality central repository of resources available to date for agencies and organizations seeking to become “vicarious trauma-informed.” The project’s overarching goal was to make a difference in the lives of first responders and victim assistance providers, to help ensure their health and well-being and to sustain the delivery of the highest quality services to those in need.  We know that the most valuable resources are those actually being effectively used in the field. This project continuously broadened its literature and internet searches and cast a wide net into the targeted fields of practice to amass the research and tools ultimately incorporated into its content. As such, the Toolkit is inclusive of the most useful and relevant policies, procedures, practices and programs currently being utilized within the first responder and victim assistance fields.

In addition, the pilot study helped to refine a tool that was developed expressly for the Toolkit and has a two-fold purpose. The Vicarious Trauma Organizational Readiness Guide (VT-ORG) enables an agency to assess its strengths and gaps in core areas of organizational health.  It is also designed to assist the Toolkit user in navigating its contents to find the resources needed to address identified gaps.

The final VT-ORG is the outcome of one year of pilot study, user review and feedback, and extensive application of the relevant evidence. Additionally, psychometric research by one of our PhD students showed it has excellent validity and reliability (paper currently undergoing peer review).

The pilot study and two national summits of experts from diverse disciplines illuminated additional gaps in resources. The project team reviewed the gap analysis and determined that some of the priority gaps identified were ones that could filled, at least in part, by collaboratively creating new tools.  These tools include a set of six guidelines for agencies and organizations seeking to become vicarious trauma-informed and PowerPoint presentations with detailed instructor notes tailored to assist agencies of each targeted discipline in raising staff and leadership’s awareness about vicarious trauma.

In addition, short educational videos were recommended for inclusion in the Toolkit. As such, two videos were produced, one for victim services and one for first responders.

Each video accessed from the VTT Home Page provides a general overview of vicarious trauma. In addition, there is an introduction to the Toolkit, and testimonials from experts in each discipline on the duty and responsibility agencies and organizations have to address vicarious trauma. Content for the videos was drawn from field interviews conducted with diverse professionals from our intended disciplines. Most recently, a new tab was added “Where to Begin”) that gives a blueprint, or step-by-step instructions, for agencies and organizations to use for utilizing the VT-ORG and other tools to become more vicarious-trauma informed.

Associated Staff

Beth Molnar - Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Research, Northeastern University

Dr. Beth E. Molnar
Principle Investigator
Northeastern University

Janet E. Fine
Project Director
Northeastern University

Karen Irene Kalergis
Product Coordinator
Northeastern University