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On the Back Burner: Challenges Experienced by Change Agents Addressing Vicarious Trauma in First Response and Victim Service Agencies

NCJ Number
Traumatology Volume: 27 Issue: 3 Dated: 2021 Pages: 316-325
Date Published

This paper reports on a qualitative study that examined data from first responders and victim service providers who were undergoing a process of changing their organization’s response to vicarious trauma; the article describes the research study’s methodology and outcomes, and makes recommendations for researchers and change agents.


Vicarious trauma (VT) is the witnessing of, or learning about, another individual's traumatic experience, evoking an empathic response. VT, and associated conditions such as vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress, is widespread among first responders (i.e., firefighters, police, and Emergency medical technicians [EMTs]) and victim assistance providers. VT can have damaging impacts on the physical and mental health of those exposed and leads to individual, organizational, and societal burdens. Strategies exist to address help organizations and individuals prevent negative impacts of VT; however, change agents-or individuals working to make a change in an organization-may face challenges in enacting these changes due to organizational barriers and cultural issues. This qualitative study examines data from first responders and victim service providers undergoing a process of changing their organization's response to VT. Interview and focus group data were gathered from 47 change agents within 15 diverse agencies. Results of thematic analysis showed that the nature of VT, namely, its intermittency, as well as administrative hurdles, made it challenging to maintain momentum for change. Recommendations for researchers and change agents within these agencies include following evidence-based organizational improvement processes and motivating administrators and workers to commit to making the change. (Published Abstracts Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2021