U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Https

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Glossary of Terms

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations. Symptoms may include depression, cynicism, boredom, loss of compassion, and discouragement.

Compassion fatigue is a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for others who are in significant emotional pain and physical distress.

Compassion satisfaction refers to the pleasure derived from work, including feeling positively about the meaningfulness of one's contribution to the work and/or to the greater good of society.

Critical incident stress and traumatic stress are highly stressful situations, traumatic events, or perceived life-threatening events that have sufficient power to overwhelm an individual's ability to cope. Normal physical and psychological responses to the traumatic event occur, which place considerable pressure on that person. When the stressor becomes extremely threatening, overwhelming, or severe, it often produces a heightened state of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral arousal called traumatic stress. The terms "traumatic stress" and "critical incident stress" are often used interchangeably. After having been exposed to traumatic stress, individuals may experience a range of reactions immediately and/or over time, including decline in job performance, behavioral changes, anxiety, relationship discord, grief reactions, depression, and suicidal ideations.

First responders include trained fire, law enforcement, and emergency medical personnel who are generally the first to arrive to assist with emergencies. Some victim assistance personnel are also first responders.

Posttraumatic stress (PTS)/posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5, is a psychological reaction that occurs after experiencing a highly stressful event outside the range of normal human experience. PTS symptoms can happen without a full diagnosis of PTSD; the disorder is diagnosed when a number of the following PTS symptoms last longer than 1 month following a traumatic event:

  • Re-experiencing or spontaneous memories and recurrent dreams of the traumatic event, flashbacks, or other intense or prolonged psychological distress.
  • Avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, feelings, or external reminders of the event.
  • Negative cognitions and mood, including myriad feelings such as a persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others, estrangement from others, markedly diminished interest in activities, and/or an inability to remember key aspects of the event.
  • Arousal marked by aggressive, reckless, or self-destructive behavior; sleep disturbances; hypervigilance; and other related problems.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.

Secondary traumatic stress (STS) refers to the natural consequent behaviors and emotions that often result from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by another and the stress resulting from helping, or wanting to help, a traumatized or suffering person. Its symptoms can mimic those of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Traumatic stress is the stress response to a traumatic event of which one is a victim or witness. Repeated stressful or traumatic events can chronically elevate the body's stress response.

Vicarious resilience is a process of learning about overcoming adversity from a trauma survivor and the resulting positive transformation and empowerment experienced through witnessing the survivor's empathy and interaction.

Vicarious transformation is an ongoing, intentional process that results in a deepened sense of connection with others, a greater appreciation in one's life, and a greater sense of meaning and hope.

Vicarious trauma is an occupational challenge for people working and volunteering in the fields of victim services, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire services, and other allied professions, due to their continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence. Exposure to the trauma of others has been shown to change the world-view of these responders and can put people and organizations at risk for a range of negative consequences.

Vicarious trauma-informed organizations proactively address the existence and impact of vicarious trauma on their staff through policies, procedures, practices, and programs that mitigate the risk of negative consequences for employees, the organization as a whole, and the quality of services delivered.

Vicarious traumatization is a negative reaction to trauma exposure and includes a range of psychosocial symptoms that providers and responders may experience through their intervention with those who are experiencing or have experienced trauma. It can include disruptions in thinking and changes in beliefs about one's sense of self, one's safety in the world, and the goodness and trustworthiness of others; as well as shifts in spiritual beliefs. Individuals may also exhibit symptoms that can have detrimental effects, both professionally and personally.

Victim service providers are professionals and volunteers who are trained to support victims/survivors of violence and other crimes by providing information, emotional support, resources, court advocacy and accompaniment, support groups, counseling, crisis hotlines, shelter, financial remedies, and other services in a trauma-informed, culturally relevant, and victim-centered manner. Victim service providers may work in government, criminal justice, nonprofit, or community-based organizations or agencies, among others. They may be referred to as victim advocates, victim/witness coordinators, rape crisis counselors, domestic violence advocates, victim counselors, victim/witness specialists, or protective workers, among other terms.