Vicarious Trauma: Caring for Our Pro-Life First Responders
By Kevin Burke, LSW
When we hear of vicarious trauma, we often think of first responders; the brave men and women who serve as firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police officers.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of caring for these public servants after repeated exposure to accidents, violence, injury, loss of life, and other tragedy. The Trauma Center of the Justice Resource Institute indicates that the longer the exposure to such events, the higher likelihood symptoms of post- traumatic stress will surface.
There is another Population of First Responders
These women and men are frequently marginalized, cursed, and ridiculed as they try and protect the innocent and advocate for their lives. They are ignored or maligned by the media, society and sadly sometimes even by their own faith communities.
They are the pro-life advocates on the front lines:
– Counselor Donna Gardner, shares about her work with a pregnancy care counselor helping an abortion minded client:
“I worked with one counselor who developed an ongoing relationship with a pregnant mother. The counselor naturally developed a close working relationship with this mother and child. The mother abruptly stopped coming to appointments. She later learned the mother aborted her 5 month old baby. She was emotionally devastated by this loss.” 
– June Matson has been the director of Pregnancy Resource Connection in Granby Colorado for the past 26 years. Their center has an ultrasound machine. In most cases seeing the ultrasound image of the unborn child helps many mothers to continue with their pregnancy.
Sadly some parents still make the tragic decision to abort their child. June shared that not only the ultrasound technician, but all volunteers present at the center during the time of the mother’s visit are impacted by the loss of this unborn child.
– A Front Line Pro-Life Advocate praying in front of an abortion business approaches a woman with love. She tries to engage her in a life affirming decision for her unborn baby. The mother goes into the abortion center and comes out with an empty womb. The pro-lifer who has encountered this mother and child is naturally intimately connected to and deeply touched by this abortion loss.
– Women and men pray before abortion centers in all kinds of weather interceding for the conversion of the employees, for the parents and their babies. At times they are cursed at, spit upon, mocked and abused by pro-abortion activists and sometimes an angry parent, grandparent or friend of the pregnant mother.
– Pro life advocates may suffer from the Institutional Spiritual Neglect of their religious leaders and churches. They stand for years on the front lines of the abortion battles, praying, educating, and legislating to try and save unborn lives and protect their parents from abortion complications. These spiritual children can feel ostracized, marginalized and unappreciated by their spiritual fathers. This causes deep pain and grief that may be expressed as bitterness, anger and depression.
Therapist Donna Gardner shares an experience that can help us better understand the disenfranchised grief of pro-life advocates :
I recently spoke with an older group of pro-life veterans who spent years in pro life ministry and advocacy. I asked them to close their eyes and bring to mind one particular situation; think of that one baby lost to abortion that especially touched you deeply. They all began to tear up and express the grief that has been hidden in their hearts for many years.
As previously noted, the effects of trauma can be cumulative. After repeated exposure to situations where a pro-life advocate is unable to save an unborn child, while continuing to face the hostility or indifference of the wider community, they can reach a tipping point.
The repressed grief and pain can emerge in symptoms that can impact life and relationships. Keep in mind a single event where one is unable to prevent a tragic death can also lead to some of these feelings and symptoms:
– Anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, irritability and anger.
– Withdrawing and isolating from others.
– Some may experience a sense of confusion, distance and darkness in their spiritual life and relationship with God.
– Nightmares, flashbacks, or other intrusive thoughts or memories of the event.
– Using substances to avoid feelings, feeling numb, spacing out, or feeling as if things are unreal 
[In part II of this series, we will explore the good news of how what we have learned in abortion recovery programs can help minister to those women and men on the front lines of pro life advocacy.]
 Thankfully she was able to find emotional and spiritual healing and closure by attending a Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend.
 Disenfranchised grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged by society.
 Regan, Laura. When Helping Hurts: Trauma’s Effects on First Responders. Good Therapy.Org, February 12th 2015.