My experience with secondary traumatic stress in mental health professionals

I’ve been working in the mental health field for a long time now, and as much as I love making a difference in people’s lives, it can often come at a very high cost. Working alongside people who may struggle with severe mental health issues can be rewarding, but it can also leave me feeling emotionally overwhelmed and mentally exhausted. It often feels like I’m carrying around some of the same pain that my patients are experiencing. This phenomenon is known as secondary traumatic stress (STS) in which a person experiences similar symptoms to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to prolonged exposure to stories or situations connected to another person’s traumatic experience.

I work very closely with others who are struggling intensely, sometimes even talking about things that they may not want other people to know about. While I try my best to remain professional and objective while providing care, it can still be hard not to get emotionally attached or personally affected by the things I hear. My work requires me to have unlimited empathy for others, but this can lead me down a dark path of second-hand trauma if I let my guard down or lose touch with who “I” am separate from being their therapist/caregiver.

Sometimes it all makes me feel so hopeless that I find myself ruminating on those feelings of distress when I’m away from work. But despite how scary this experience can be at times, I never shy away from having meaningful conversations with my clients - because that’s why we’re here right? To help one another grow and heal from our traumas together! Without support and understanding along the way, none of us would ever make any progress during our individual journeys towards recovery.