Workforce Secondary Traumatic Stress

In Spring 2021, Washington State passed SHB 1363. This legislation acknowledges the significant toll STS has on educators, and subsequently students, and focuses on the adoption of policy and procedures so that districts and schools can take meaningful steps in supporting their staff’s health and well-being. Under RCW 28A.300.825, OSPI has been tasked with sharing resources and assessments to prevent and respond to STS.

What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is “Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is the emotional distress that results when an individual hears about the traumatic experiences of another individual. Distress may result from hearing
someone’s trauma stories, seeing high levels of distress in the aftermath of a traumatic event, needing to retell a student’s story, and/or seeing photos or images related to the trauma.

Source: Trauma-Sensitive Schools

The following are common indicators of Secondary Traumatic Stress:

  • Increased anxiety and concern about safety

  • Intrusive, negative thoughts and images related to their students' traumatic stories

  • Fatigue and physical complaints

  • Feeling numb or detached from students

  • Feeling powerless or hopeless about students and the work

  • Diminished concentration and difficulty with decision making

  • Desire to physically or emotionally withdraw from people or situations that trigger difficult thoughts and emotions

Several other terms capture elements of STS, but with some differences.

  • Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment. Although burnout also is work related, burnout develops as a result of general occupational stress; the term is not used specifically to describe the effects of indirect trauma exposure.

  • Compassion fatigue is a less stigmatizing way to describe STS and is sometimes used interchangeably with the term STS.

  • Vicarious trauma refers to internal changes in teachers and staff members who engage empathetically with students affected by trauma. It is a theoretical term describes the cumulative effects of secondary exposure to trauma.

  • Compassion satisfaction describes the positive feelings derived from competent performance as professional working with trauma survivors. It is characterized by positive relationships with colleagues and the conviction that one’s efforts contribute in a meaningful way to students, their families, and the community.

Resources and Information:

If you are interested in becoming part of the Workforce Secondary Traumatic Stress Advisory Committee please contact Student Support Services Director Gigi Calaway at (509) 932-4565 ext. 3041 or