Vicarious trauma among researchers working with at-risk populations

A substantial body of literature on epidemiological studies estimate that between 36 and 81 percent of the general population experience a traumatic event at some time in their lives which is far more often than previously believed (Cusack et al. 2004).
Flynn-Burhoe. 2003. A Fliction: Dawn among the Hummocks, Iqaluit, NU

A US study a team of researchers led by Karen J. Cusack, Ph.D. concluded that since Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is associated with some of the most serious psychosocial impairments and highest rates of mental health service use and costs than any other disorder, it is important to identify an individual’s lifetime trauma exposure history. Yet in publicly funded health services screening for and therefore treatment of trauma exposure is rare (Cusack et al. 2004).

Cusack’s team promoted an educational component directed at intake workers which included several reliable instruments for measuring trauma symptoms based on DSM-IV including a self-report PTSD Checklist.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs when one is traumatized directly (in harm’s way) (DSM IV APA, 1994 [1]). However parents, professional health care workers, teachers and others may be traumatized indirectly. Secondary Traumatic Stress, Vicarious Trauma, Compassion Fatigue are experienceed though different social pathways. According to Charles R. Figley, Ph.D. of the Florida State University Traumatology Institute, there are few reports of the incidence and prevalence of Secondary Traumatic Stress. He suggests that related concepts such as Burnout, countertransference and worker dissatisfaction may have masked this common problem (Figley 1995). See Figley (2004).

Vicarious traumatization, for example, refers to a transformation in the therapist’s (or other trauma worker’s) inner experience resulting from empathic engagement with clients’ trauma material. . .[and] vulnerable to the emotional and spiritual effects of vicarious traumatization. These effects are cumulative and permanent, and evident in both a therapist’s professional and personal life (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995, p. 151).

According to Figley (1997) Compassion Fatigue or Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, is nearly identical to PSTD, except it affects those emotionally affected by the trauma of another.

York University Professor Susan McGrath’s called attention to the growing concern

“by researchers and practitioners alike regarding the emotional impact of working with victims of trauma on those in the social services or so-called “helping professions”, as well as on those who decide the fate of these individuals, and it has been widely accepted that interaction with victims of traumatic exposure places people at high risk of secondary exposure (Stamm et al. 2003). Classical burnout theory such as work by Maslach (1982) defines burnout syndrome as a pattern of emotional overload and subsequent emotional exhaustion, characterized by depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment as a response to the chronic emotional strain of dealing extensively with other human beings, particularly when they are troubled or having problems.”

She noted that,

“The terms “compassion fatigue” (Figley,1995) and “secondary traumatic stress” (Figley, 1995; Stamm, 1999) have been used interchangeably to denote a syndrome of symptoms nearly identical to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder except that exposure to a traumatizing event experienced by one person becomes a traumatizing event for the second person (Stamm, 1999). Finally, the majority of studies in this area have used the term vicarious trauma which has been defined as “the transformation that occurs in the inner experience of the therapist that comes about as a result of empathic engagements with clients’ trauma material” (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995, p.31).

York University offers special courses in Clinical Intervention for mental health professionals, including psychologists, social workers, mental health counsellors, family therapists, employee assistance professionals, clinical supervisors, and other practitioners who provide psychological treatment and therapeutic intervention for survivors of trauma. The certificate course provides participants will also develop an in-depth understanding of compassion fatigue and strategies for prevention and enhancement of practitioner resiliency, including how to effectively intervene with care providers who have become “compassion-fatigued” through their trauma response work (source).”

Notes:

1. DSM IV (APA, 1994) is the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic disorders manual which is updated every ten years.

Advertisements

One Response

  1. If you ever want to see a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this article for four from five. Decent info, but I have to go to that damn yahoo to find the missed parts. Thanks, anyway!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: