Vicarious Trauma: Do you have it, better yet how to avoid it

In this episode psychotherapist Nikita Banks, LCSW discusses the most recent incidents of violence in this country and we discuss the effects vicarious trauma and how to avoid it. Vicarious trauma is caused by repeated exposure to violent events, it is thought to only be experienced by caregivers but Ms Banks provides a unique perspective on the situation in this episode.

Nikita Banks, LCSW 0:00 

Welcome to another episode of black in therapy. Black in therapy is a podcast where we explore the unique issues people of color face, we’re dealing with mental health issues and mental health diagnosis. I’m your host, Nikita Banks, who’s a psycho therapist here in Brooklyn, New York, and welcome to our new show, you can sign up for our mailing list at Black in therapy. com. You can email us just feedback, show suggestions, and just drop a line and say, Hey, at Black in therapy at gmail, com, as well as you can follow us on everything Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, at Black in therapy. Okay, so we’re going to get into our new show. So this week’s show, I want to talk about something called vicarious trauma. And the way that I ended up coming up to I don’t know, figuring out what I wanted to do in the show this week was because I was outside last week, probably in the middle of the week, and I looked up in the sky and I saw the light show. That is the tribute, I guess I don’t even know what is distributed in light of the Twin Towers. I live here in New York, as I said, Brooklyn, New York. And you know, when the day the Twin Towers fell 16 years ago, I literally watched the towers fall out of the sky. So at first I was just kind of going about my day, you know, at dusk, and I saw people looking up in the sky, the probably like New Yorkers, identifiers. And I was like, what are they looking at, but I wasn’t really paying attention. Because as most New Yorkers do, I was just kind of going along with my day, or my evening. And I don’t know, I was walking. And I ended up walking in a direction where I kind of cut the lights in my peripheral. And it hit me like a jolt, shit, it’s September 11. And it was like September 6, or something. So the lights were on, like super early. And you can kind of go watch a day ago about your your time and not think about, you know what day of the weekend is or what day it is. But anniversaries like this, especially if you are in that area of New York, in DC, or Virginia, where the Pentagon was that you kind of don’t forget where you are when these national tragedies happen. And so it got me to thinking about how triggering, it was, for me thinking about that day, I lost a family member, and 911. And I just kind of remember like getting the phone calls and not knowing where, where, where she was and being worried. And you know, actually literally being outside watching. The fighter jets fly above us and like seeing the buildings fall. And I try not to dwell on those things like our mind is so great that it kind of shields you from those things. But things like anniversary of our minds shields us from those kind of negative memories, but on anniversaries that those times are kind of hard to forget things that we’ve seen and things that we’ve gone through, both as a nation as a family and as a city and as an as a state here in New York, for me to see the lights, it was like a bolt of like emotions kind of went through me. And unfortunately, or fortunately, I’m not really sure which I still had to go on with my day. So I got me thinking about vicarious trauma and how it shows up, there was a lot of not not 11 studies, I had co workers who worked on some of the 911 studies and you know, widows, they carried some of their that trauma. As they were making their babies in their wombs, and these these are real occurrences. So I started to think more about, you know, the phenomenon and actually wrote a piece in in paper, a paper in school stuttering about vicarious trauma on a movie, which was about a father who lost his wife and 911, which is raining on me and Adam Sandler’s in and it was a pretty good movie, if you ever look at it, but it kind of like describes what we’re going to talk about today in movie four.

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 4:05 


   Nikita Banks, LCSW 4:06 

so vicarious trauma is usually something that’s only thought of as like caregivers. So in the case of 911, it would have been, you know, the social workers, the therapists, the first responders, counselors, but vicarious trauma is something that happens to us each and every day, as we watch tragedies, or we care for six people, or, you know, in the case of my work experience, I deal with a lot of people who have dealt with sexual violence and sexual trauma. And you know, by hearing those stories over and over, and over and over again, you can get inundated with all these intrusive thoughts and on things in your mind that if you’re not very careful, you will be susceptible to being depressed and having your own mental health issues just from being exposed to these things.

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 4:55 

And so

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 4:56 

that carriers trauma can also be seen as a physiologic affects people face when they have both face natural and man made disaster. So for example, the 2016 election, I laugh, but that’s not funny. But you know, a lot of people were really negatively affected by the election. I know, as a therapist, I went to my therapist, after the election happened, I know that, you know, statistically, there were calls to people’s therapist, and there was actually arise and people go and visit that therapist after the election, because it kind of changed the the the idea of what we thought we were as a country. And so psychologically, there were changes and shifts that happen as a result to that one event. And that’s really what vicarious trauma is repeated shootings of unarmed black men in this country with PD media exposure of those events, watching all of all of that, the trials and the acquittals and discuss the dehumanizing a coverage that occurs whenever violence is committed against African American person or Hispanic person in this country, or in anybody in the name of race, right? We see that in Charlottesville and have the higher being murdered. And so the responses are apathetic to people who don’t look like us, and don’t seem to care about our issues, watching them, you know, roam through the streets with guns and tiki torches, right. So that’s psychologically damaging. And so being able to see those things, whether you lived in Charlottesville,

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 6:32 

or you lived in Brooklyn, New York, you know, it’s real,

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 6:35 

that it’s happening. And that is happening today. And that is happening to people who look like me and are targeted that who are people that I know and I can identify with, that is a scary thing. So it It affects you psychologically, as well as those who have lived through Hurricane Katrina. Right now we’ve had a lot of hurricanes, Irma, and Hosein floods in Texas. And so let’s say you live to country, Trina, and then you moved to Texas, or you moved to Florida. And you’ve seen this happening again, it’s psychologically triggering. And so I’m living in New York, like I said, After 911, there was an injection into the national psychology, for good or bad, I really can’t tell that there was a national shift in emotions, and the energy that occurred after these kinds of events. And so that’s what I want to talk about vicarious trauma, mostly people have a narrow, narrow definition of vicarious trauma, they usually think it only affects first responders or like, you know, therapists or social workers or people in the mental health field or helping professionals right. But no, we are all affected by trauma, whether it happens to us, or it happens to somebody that looks like us, or it happens to somebody who we could identify as being us, right, if something can happen to have a higher, it can happen to me, something can happen to an unarmed black man, it can happen to somebody that I love. So that affects me on a on a deeper visceral level than it does to somebody who is not of my same culture, or doesn’t care about my you know, my well being or they don’t care about my issues, right. And so vicarious trauma is defined as the process of change that happens, because you care about other people who have been hurt, and feel committed or responsible to help them over time, this process can lead to changes in your physiological, your physical and your spiritual well being just like any of the trauma, it’s usually a result of repeated exposure to certain events. So again, I mean, I hate to use this as another example. But unfortunately, my country gives me so many of them to think about when we see unarmed black men have negative police interactions, over and over and over and over again, generation after generation, it becomes overwhelming, it becomes embedded in our psyche. And so it changes how we think how we act and how we move. And so this is not just something that you think about the happens just to first responders or like caregivers, this is everybody, I believe vicarious trauma, something that happens throughout the community, especially the more and more I look at the definition, cumulative effects of contact with survivors, right? So because I’m, I’m black, and I’m in the black community, I know more and more people who’ve been affected by this kind of like racial based violence or police brutality or poverty, or, you know, because I’m in New York, I know more people who’ve been affected by 911. Right, as but as as well as because I work in this field, it comes up, you know, we talk about the trauma that people faced in the community. So let’s say somebody like me, I’m Tripoli, right? I’m Tripoli predisposed to have vicarious trauma. Number one, I lived in New York City 911. That’s one level of exposure. Number two, I lost a family member, or somebody that I knew in the attack. Another risk factor is that you witness the cruelty or you experience or see the loss following the distressing disaster, or even a traumatizing story. So being exposed to the aftermath of what happens following the hurricane or following the media exposure to these things, or following 911. I know for me, with 911, I don’t know if there was a week later, or like a few weeks later, right after 911. It may have been a month later. But it just all felt like it was just one event, not 11 happens. And I was like screwed up about that whole situation. And then a few weeks later, could have been a month later could have been a year later. I remember it being around the same time, New York had experienced a

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 10:53 

horrific plane crash from the Dominican Republic. And, and I remember just being like holy crap, not again, and I just want to hide under my bed. Because for me having such a history of exposure to violence and trauma being somebody who grew up in Brooklyn, and that’s who made me exposed and leaves me predisposed to PTSD, as well as vicarious trauma. And then I do this for a living. I keep saying that. But I’m going to get into why I keep saying that. Because self care is so important. regardless of if you’re a mental health professional, or if you’re just somebody who consumes the news on an everyday basis, or if you live through a horrific events, self care is important. And it’s something that we need to do more in our everyday life. So changes occur as a result of the physiological and psychological exposure to these things. And when you empathize with the victim, it makes the trauma real for you. So you know, my level of exposure as empathetic social worker, or my level x full of exposure, as you know, the mother of a black child, when I see a black child be murdered, or my level of exposure, as opposed to a white supremacist or white person, or somebody who’s removed from events is different. And while I can empathize with the people on the ground in Texas, right now, my heart goes out to my friends, because I know that it’s not only whether you empathize, but if you feel the need and the act to do something. And so for my friends who have family in Texas, of course, they’re going to just get up and get on a plane and go or go there and go do things, you know, you know, a lot of celebrities have have reached out to donate money and donate time to help rebuild Texas, but I mean, I’m gonna keep it real. I’m a New Yorker. And because I’m physically removed from the situation, I can kind of put it away, mentally, and I don’t have to deal with the devastation that my friends who live in Texas, and my friends who live in Florida right now have to deal with, they have to deal with it on a daily basis. And even if it’s not their home, that is destroyed or flooded, or they lost things, it’s somebody that they know, and I’m, you know, I have loved ones in all of those zones, and I’m just I’m praying for them. But to be honest with you, I’m trying not to get so filled with worry about things that are not in my control that I can’t put any more on my emotional plate than I already have. So empathy makes the trauma happen in that by that trauma, I’m talking about the vicarious trauma, they hurt, and you have a responsibility to do something about it. So for first responders or for the builders, or for the people that are there in the aftermath of the the immediate emergency, it’s something that can be very, very overwhelming. And by seeing it so many times you’ll you’ll even gain physiological symptoms, and we’re gonna talk about that in a minute. So the MMO of the trauma, it helps to change the view of your world. And it allows you to question your spirituality, right? Why did God allow this to happen? Where Where was God when when this occurred, you start to think of all kinds of crazy things and it starts to test your faith, vicarious trauma. So because I’m reading the symptoms list of what vicarious trauma is. So by very definition of the things that I’m reading, to me, that’s not something that only happens to caregivers, right? trauma exposure to a situation in which a person is confronted with an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury to themselves or to others, it can cause vicarious trauma. So the fact that people are saying that this is something that only happens to caregivers, to me doesn’t make any sense, like I said, but by definition, so what leads you to exposure to vicarious trauma, or symptoms of vicarious trauma, your role in the event, so, if you first responder, if your house was actually hit by any of the natural disasters, if you saw on 911, if you lost a loved one, your role plays a part in whether or not you will have exposure,

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 15:14 

also proximity to the trauma, right? Obviously, people in Florida are going to be more affected by Hurricane Armah. Or if you were in Cuba, or in any of the Virgin Island islands that were hit, you would be more affected by those things, life stressors, if you have other life stresses that have absolutely nothing to do with that event itself. You are predisposed to feeling and over identifying with the other people who’ve actually dealt with those things, if you know them. Also, if you don’t have effective coping skills, effective coping mechanisms for dealing with stress, you are predisposed to have vicarious trauma over identification, which means that it I said, Oh my god, a hurricane happened in, I don’t know, Texas, it can happen in New York, it can happen anywhere. If you if you are predisposed to anxiety, or mental health issues, you are predisposed to vicarious trauma and past exposure, like I said, for people who are have lived through Hurricane Katrina or Lyft. To Andrew, this is a triggering situation, and they are going to be more connected with the victims of the natural disasters that we’re having right now.

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 16:31 

cultural expression of trauma and grief

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 16:34 

is a big one. So I’m black, if you didn’t know. But you know, we have a way of dealing with grief and and natural disasters, in our communities, especially for those of us who are religious, we just pray it away. And we actually don’t deal with the emotions and we suppress the feelings and we’re told to just give it to God and God will make it better and it’s God with God’s will. And you’re not to question God and sometimes that that’s just not the best answer to give when you’re dealing with trying to figure out why you just lost everything that you’ve worked very hard for in your life. And you have this kept a smile. I was with a friend recently who lost almost everything and Houston yesterday and she was smiling through it. And wow, I commend her for doing so I would have been okay if she chose not to, and I would have been okay if she would have said, You know what, I feel really messed up. I lost everything. I don’t know what I’m going to do. And we hugged it out and she cried and cried about it. And we talked about it because that really helps dealing with these kinds of issues, physical changes that happen because yes, you have physical symptoms, you become hyper aware or hypersensitive. You have PTSD symptoms, nightmares, night terrors, intrusive thoughts, thinking about it all the time, not able to put it out of your mind, bad dreams, anxiety, depression, fear, numbness, emotional paralysis, sometimes like physical paralysis, you feel like you can’t do anything because you’re so overwhelmed with where to start. So that’s that’s a symptom, increased sensitivity or hypersensitivity sleep disturbances. Obviously, if you’re having nightmares, you might not be able to sleep guilt, anger and fear, terrorizing fear and anxiety. So these are all symptoms that can happen. Also emotional symptoms is isolation, depression, anger, you may see an increase in substance use drug use alcohol abuse and issues surrounding impulse control. Okay, so now that you guys know what vicarious trauma is, and what I think it is, here’s some ways that you will be able to deal with vicarious trauma or at least lessen the effects of it on your life. Number one, remove yourself from access to the trauma, turn off your smartphones, Terrell off your your, your meat, media apps, social media is your your news app. vape. Because news comes right to your phone now, right. So just just be mindful of filtering out some of those things that you’re ingesting that leaves you exposed to the trauma, clear your mind of the events, learn skills like mindfulness, meditation, prayer, go take a walk, get away from it physically, if you can, if you can go on vacation, or remove yourself from the event and any way that you can those options. Talk about your feelings with people who understand non judgmental, go to a group or survivors group but but be Be careful with over sharing or taking on other people’s grief while you’re in that space. Because that can be very difficult to do. But individual therapy is also a great way to lessen the effects of vicarious trauma, we vibrate as a country on energy, we vibrate as humans on energy. So when the energy of the country is fearful, and the energy of the country is depressed, or the energy of the country is anxious, as we have been these last few months, we all feel it vicariously, we all feel it, we feel it. And so there are things that we need to learn to do to control that that feeling and there are things that we need to do to put our, our emotional equilibrium on even playing. I’m a Libra. So everything for me is about balance. And so the last tip that I’ll give is a BC awareness. So you have to be aware of your feelings and that you’re taking on these these feelings and the symptoms of vicarious trauma.

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 20:45 

So we’re saying provide

   Nikita Banks, LCSW 20:47 

yourself with balance, if you’re a caregiver, if you are in the caring professions, if you are a first responder, you have to balance the tragedy with the everyday life. And you have to find the balance between caring and not over caring, working and leaving your work at home not taking your work at home. Because I mean, I hear a lot of traumatic things but I literally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it after work and it sounds horrible, but I have to be able to deal with how am I going to pay my light bill if I’m thinking about is, you know, a client who was molested or or you know, sexually violated or you know, lost their homes or whatever thing I may hear on a daily basis. Like I have to be able to find a balance between my work life and my home life and the trauma and norm normal policy. Getting into a routine is one of the best ways to kind of lessen the symptoms of vicarious trauma. Also make a connection. Make a connection with like minded people. Well, it is people who have experienced the trauma or people who don’t know nothing about the trauma, go to a yoga group, go to meditation group, learn to remove yourself from the trauma but also do it in a way that you’re building connection to other people who may know exactly what you’re going through. This has been another episode of black in therapy. I hope you enjoyed the show. Once again, you can sign up to our mailing list at Black in therapy. com. You can reach us at Black in therapy at gmail. com show suggestions feedback or general just Hey, drop a line. Also, follow us on everything at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @ Black in Therapy

Nikita Banks, LCSW 22:45 

Nikita Banks, LCSW 22:46 

Be Well

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