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Vicarious Trauma: The Lurking Demon in an EFT Practice

As EFT practitioners, we are blessed to work intimately with clients regarding life-altering events. Sometimes these events can be traumatic in nature. Sometimes the experience of our clients can trigger significant emotions within ourselves, especially if we have shared similar circumstances that have not been fully resolved. When a practitioner is affected in a deep way that goes beyond the session, this has been termed Vicarious Trauma (VT). The term was coined by Perlman & Saakvitne in 1995. This condition has also been called “compassion fatigue” and secondary traumatic stress.

Mental health care providers may well specialize in working with individuals who have lived through traumas, especially Big T traumas like sexual and physical abuse, though it is advised that non-licensed EFT coaches do not advertise nor find their niche in working with these individuals, as they are lacking a depth of training for working with the secondary diagnoses that may well result from such events. That being said, the recalling of traumatic events may show up in mid-session without the practitioner being informed ahead of time. In these cases, it is imperative that a practitioner be able to maintain a neutral and grounded state to assist their client in being able to resource themselves through tapping back to a safe and neutral state. When a practitioner finds themselves continuing to be effected beyond the session to a significant degree, the need to consider that secondary trauma may be involved.

Signs of Vicarious Trauma

According to the American Counseling Association’s Traumatology Interest Network, if you as a practitioner find yourself doing the following, you should consider that VT is involved:

  • You avoid talking or thinking about what the trauma effected client(s) have been talking about, almost being numb to it.
  • You are in a persistently aroused state; e.g. you: find yourself losing sleep over clients, worry that you are not doing enough for your client(s), find yourself being jumpy and easily startled, are more easily irritated and/or angered, dreaming about your client’s traumatic experiences, having intrusive thoughts about your clients when not at work, feeling less satisfaction and less hope with your work.

Obviously secondary trauma can affect the quality of your work, your personal relationships and your physical well-being. Fortunately for EFT practitioners, a self-regulating somatic technique should hopefully be being used throughout your sessions, tapping of course! Tapping has significant more self-regulating benefits than listening alone. In the Tapping out of Trauma course we teach, many more self-regulating techniques are demonstrated.

Most importantly, this points to the importance of self-work by EFT practitioners. Traumatic events  that we have survived, if not fully addressed are prime topics for re-traumatization by another person’s re-telling of their story, even if they don’t look exactly alike. Comparable feelings of isolation or victimization are also potential triggers.

EFT as a Preventive Measure

So what do you need to do about Vicarious Trauma? First, be able to recognize the signs. Second, make sure that you continue to do your Personal Peace Procedure to resolve your past trauma history. Third, make sure to have a fellow EFT/counseling colleague that you are able to easily check in with when you notice you’re that you are exhibiting some of the feelings and behaviors discussed in this article.

Craig Weiner, DC