vicarious trauma

Vicarious trauma may occur while you are working on this project. It is normal and it occurs when you take on the hard stories of the people whom you are interviewing. As Glennita said, there is powerful medicine in listening to stories and in sharing stories. But because these stories can be about painful topics, it may cause you to feel angry, sad, or depressed. The resources here are to help you understand when that is happening and to take care of yourself. Remember first that you are not alone. You have people to support you, to listen to what you are going through, and to help you understand why you are feeling the way you are feeling.

Also, know that you are part of a powerful lineage of storytellers and journalists who seek to tell hard, painful stories in order to have greater justice, compassion and understanding in the world. But to do this work, it must be sustainable for your heart, body and mind. You must take care of yourself first.

It is important to find what works for you personally. When I leave a difficult interview, I have a cleansing practice I do where I wash my hands and think about letting the story go so it does not stay with me in a negative way.

Maybe you have a protection prayer that would serve you in this work. Maybe you have a meditation practice. Maybe taking a long walk or run outside will help you to process the stories you've heard and remember your strength and focus. Maybe sharing with someone else and talking it through is the best thing to help you in this work. Whatever it is, make space and time to come home to yourself and take care of yourself.


Reporting on traumatic events

"Debbie’s reported on many traumatic events. Hurricane Harvey, for one. The marches in Charlottesville, for another... As I listened to her reports on NPR, I wondered: How do you do that? How do you, a stranger with a microphone, show up to a small, traumatized town and ask questions? As Debbie told me in this episode of HowSound, “In some ways you feel like this pariah who is here at this darkest moment for this town and you’ve got your microphone out trying to get the story.” [Debbie has] learned a quite a few strategies to avoid being a pariah. She lays out some of them on HowSound with Rob Rosenthal



From the Headington Institute, this is an excellent workbook that you can download that helps you to understand vicarious trauma and if you may be experiencing it. It provides lots of education and ways to help take care of yourself.


The dart center for journalism and trauma

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is an incredible resource of reporting and education about vicarious trauma. So many things to read through here. The button below links to their classroom resources for teaching about trauma in storytelling work.


Mindfulness training for journalists

Also through the Dart Center, this video is from a training they organized with Buddhist monks who study with poet, teacher, and activist Thich Nhat Hanh . The mindfullness training offered in this video shares techniques on how to cultivate "clarity, calm and even happiness in every situation and in every moment. Research findings consistently show that mindfulness practice is associated with psychological resilience, and can help with problems and symptoms often experienced by trauma survivors."

Examining the Theory of Historical Trauma Among Native Americans

If you'd like to dive into a very academic paper from 2014, this publication explores the study of historical trauma in Native American communities, its effect on physical and mental health, and the need for healthcare providers to be informed about the impact of historical trauma. The author, Kathleen Brown-Rice, writes that "the concept of historical trauma is 'collective and multilayered rather than being solely centered on an individual' and this differs from a 'typical Eurocentric perspective of illness and treatment, which tends to reduce suffering to discrete illnesses with individual causes and solutions'... Therefore, professional counselors should adapt evidence-based practices by applying tribal-specific healing strategies, community support, and approaches that incorporate validation of grief and loss associated with historical traumas."

The Cedar Project: resilience in the face of HIV vulnerability within a cohort study involving young Indigenous people who use drugs in three Canadian cities

This is another very academic paper. It is a compassionate and powerful study, carried out over a long time, looking at the importance of access to community, language and cultural traditions for indigenous youth. It explores the powerful healing and resilience that exists when traumatized indigenous youth can reconnect with their history and culture. The authors write, "This study has demonstrated what many Indigenous scholars and Elders have known for generations: that cultural teachings, values, and languages are the foundations of resilience among Indigenous peoples. In the aftermath of colonization, these foundations continue to function as “cultural buffers” that protect Indigenous peoples from severe health outcomes, including HIV and HCV infection. The young Indigenous people in this study are survivors, as they have adapted to and lived through multiple and intersecting adversities. This study has demonstrated that those young people who had access to culture and languages were buffered both psychologically and emotionally."