Seeing ‘the dark passenger’ – reflections on the emotional trauma of conducting post-disaster research

09 January 2020

This paper acknowledges '. the [my] dark passenger' of emotional vicarious trauma associated with conducting post-disaster research. Post-disaster research is tightly bounded by ethics and professional codes of conduct requiring us to be vigilant about the impact of our work on our participants. However, as a disaster researcher, I have been affected by vicarious trauma. 'Direct personal' vicarious trauma is where I experienced trauma associated with witnessing devastation making a professional separation from my objective subjects impossible. 'Indirect professional' vicarious trauma occurred when PhD students and others under my supervision that I sent to disaster affected places, experienced significant negative emotional responses and trauma as they interviewed their participants. In these situations, I became traumatised by my lack of training and reflected on how the emphasis on the participants came at the expense of the researcher in my care. Limited literature exists that focuses on the vicarious trauma experienced by researchers, and their supervisors working in post-disaster places and this paper is a contribution to that body of scholarship. In acknowledging and exploring the emotions and vicarious trauma of researchers embedded in landscapes of disaster, it becomes possible for future researchers to pre-empt this phenomenon and to consider ways that they might manage this.