The Effects of Trauma on Clients and Counselors

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The Effects of Trauma on Clients and Counselors

In this paper, I will pick 2 examples of trauma-causing events and describe them. I will also discuss the effects that trauma has on emergency personnel and survivors. At the end of the paper, I will describe how a counselor could suffer from vicarious traumatization (VT) or secondary traumatic stress (STS).

Two Examples of Trauma-Causing Events

            The first example that I selected for this paper is Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina was especially devastating because it claimed a lot of lives, and it destroyed tons of homes and businesses. Life was difficult for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina because many lost their homes and lost their source of income due to this tragedy. Many needed medical treatment, clean clothes, and food to eat. Then, there is the psychological damage that was done to the survivors. However, helping to provide them with the basic necessities takes priority over treating the psychological symptoms they may be experiencing.

The second example that I chose for this paper is Robin Williams’s suicide that occurred recently. In the immediate aftermath, Zelda Williams (his daughter) was bullied off of Twitter due to mean comments about her father’s death. Not only was she dealing with the emotions from the trauma that occurred, but also she has had to deal with cruel comments about her father’s death and how people called him a coward for taking the easy way out. Zelda dealt with the stigma against suicide alongside her own personal grief.

Effects on Survivors and Responders

            Both events are equally traumatic on survivors in different ways. Hurricane Katrina not only devastated victims psychologically, but depleted them of necessary resources. Clients may react to a natural disaster in various ways, and it is up to us to utilize a helping approach when working with clients in this situation (Shallcross, 2012). Robin Williams’s suicide most likely had a negative psychological effect on Zelda and the rest of his kids because it probably left them with many unanswered question. Not only are they dealing with the grief of losing their father, but also they have to develop closure with their dad committing suicide.

The responders are at high risk to get vicarious traumatization from seeing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Witnessing such devastation could change how responders view themselves, others, and the world (Baird, 2006). The responders might become more disillusioned at the scene and it may make it harder for them to respond and do their job effectively at the scene. They are trained to immediately provide assistance, but they are also human and have feelings like the rest of us.

Differences in Counselor’s Role in Treating Survivors

The counselor’s role in treating a survivor of Hurricane Katrina is to help restore a sense of safety and security in the clients lives (Shallcross, 2012). A first responder is more concerned with physical safety and saving lives in both examples instead of emotional aftermath. Although our primary role is to deal with immediate needs at the scene of a disaster, we are also there to provide the emotional support the client may need. A first responder will try to save Robin’s life at the scene, whereas we would be providing emotional support for the survivors at the scene.

VT and STS

            A counselor could develop VT when working at the scene of Hurricane Katrina. There could be many times where they are helping survivors and might see disturbing images. Witnessing destroyed homes or dead bodies on the streets might change the counselor’s perspectives as a whole.

A counselor might develop STS when working with Zelda if they see similarities between their situation and the client’s situation. As a result, the counselor may display symptoms of PTSD, even though they did not go through that particular situation (Baird, 2006).

Strategies to Address VT or STS

The first strategy that a counselor might use to address VT or STS is to debrief after each session. Instead of scheduling multiple clients back-to-back, it may be useful to keep a small window of time available to unwind after each session. A 20-minute window should suffice between clients, but it may be necessary to add more time if you have multiple clients with serious traumas.

The second strategy a counselor might use is to incorporate self-care and consultations with their supervisor. Maybe they can incorporate exercise into their daily routine, partake in a new hobby, or get more rest. Incorporating additional counselor supervision can help in recognizing signs of VT or STS, and help treat it before too much damage is done.

In conclusion, this week I got to analyze the effects of trauma on survivors and professionals. I was particularly interested in the counselor’s role in each of the situations that I chose.


Baird, K., & Kracen, A. C. (2006). Vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress: A research synthesis. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 19(2), 181–188.

Retrieved from the Walden Library databases

Shallcross, L. (2012, February). A calming presence. Counseling Today. Retrieved from