Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I spent much of the past week at the BC Conference leaders’ event, Sowing Promise, Growing Leaders. The event was very good with a combination of inspiration and encouragement, mediated by Peter Short, teamed with windows for people to begin pursuit of individual areas of reflection and action.

One of the most useful times for me was a presentation by Dr. David Kuhl of the Center for Practitioner Renewal. One of the major foci for the center is post traumatic stress disorder. They work with physicians and soldiers returning from war.

As one who often feels like I play the role of the doctor entering the room carrying the news, “It’s serious, it’s cancer” I found the list of possible symptoms for secondary post traumatic stress disorder, sometimes called vicarious trauma, helpful.

The following list was compiled from Dr. Kuhl’s presentation and various websites. (The paper “Secondary Traumatic Stress, Compassion Fatigue and Counsel or Spirituality: Implications for Counselors Working with Trauma” by Laura R. Simpson ( and Donna S. Starkey ( may be particularly interesting.)

Here’s the list. Even though I don’t have a check mark in each box I have shared a Diet Coke with many.

  • Vulnerability: A heighted sense of vulnerability, cynicism, or distrust.
  • Feelings of guilt and/or grief: Overwhelming feelings guilt or grief are often experienced, especially if the person may perceive that they could have prevented the traumatic event.
  • Depression including feelings of loneliness and betrayal
  • Hyper-vigilance – sensitive to small mood changes or other risks to stability; may make sleep difficult
  • emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion
  • rage, detachment, or dread – may possibly lead to burnout
  • individuals that lack spiritual beliefs are at risk to experience excruciating pain and feelings of rejection as they search for meaning in the world
  • increased risk of compassion fatigue
  • increased sense of losing faith

I wonder a couple of things.

1. Have other church workers experienced such symptoms?

2. Do you think that we might be experiencing more of this now when the church and congregations are suffering and, despite our best efforts, we often feel we are not able to bring about much change or facilitate the kind of new life and vibrant Christian communities for which we yearn?

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