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Nurses should know about vicarious trauma: clinical nurse specialist

Dealing with sensitive information when caring for distressed drug and alcohol clients and the resulting emotional toll and exhaustion leaves nurses at risk of a range of health issues, a clinical nurse specialist says.

Ravina Raidu, from Drug Health Services, South Western Sydney Local Health District and the University of Tasmania, said the vicarious trauma that nurses working within drug health experience needs to be better understood so it can be identified and treated before it becomes a problem.

Raidu described vicarious trauma as the transformation that occurs within the self, in which perceptions, concepts and experiences are negatively transformed through continuous and controlled empathetic engagement with the trauma descriptions clients provide.

She added it is a natural consequence of detecting, connecting with and caring for clients affected by trauma and, as such, cannot be avoided.

“It impacts the psychological, mental and physiological wellbeing of clinicians working with trauma clients,” she said. “It cannot be avoided and is going to be present in their lives no matter what.”

Raidu presented a poster on the topic at the 2017 APSAD Scientific Alcohol and Drug Conference, for which she won the Early Career Poster Prize and The People's Choice Award.

The poster focused on Raidu’s literature review, which aimed to identify, understand and determine the cause of vicarious trauma and its effect on nurses working with drug and alcohol clients.

“The emotional toll and exhaustion sustained from dealing with sensitive information, with the potential of developing debilitating conditions like depression and anxiety, means that vicarious trauma could be very costly for nurses professionally and personally,” an abstract read.

Nursing Review spoke with Raidu about the signs of vicarious trauma, its impact on clinicians and how it can be managed.

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