Secondary traumatization and related variables in mental health professionals



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Texas Tech University


This study utilized a national mail survey with licensed psychologists to explore therapist variables related to secondary traumatization. A 27% participation rate resulted in 255 partially or totally completed questionnaires (61.2% male; 38.4% female). The survey assessed for demographic information, a personal history of trauma, a vicarious history of trauma in personal relationships, vicarious exposure to trauma at work, years of experience, current trauma symptoms, and the belief in a just world.

Vicarious experiences of trauma in both personal and professional relationships and a history of personal trauma were expected to be positively related to trauma symptoms. An inverse relationship between trauma symptoms and years of experience was predicted. Interaction effects between a personal history of trauma and experiences with traumatized clients in predicting both trauma symptoms and the belief in a just world were hypothesized. Similar interaction effects involving a vicarious history of trauma in personal relationships were proposed.

Multiple analyses of variance, regression analyses, and correlational analyses were utilized to investigate hypotheses. Group differences as a function of a personal history of trauma were not identified. There was some evidence that the experience of greater numbers of personally traumatic events was related to increased trauma symptoms, and the impact of trauma varied as a function of participants' gender, age in which the trauma was experienced, and the specific type of trauma experienced.

Perhaps one of the key findings in this study, a greater number of vicariously traumatic experiences in personal relationships was related to increased trauma symptoms, but vicarious exposure to trauma in professional relationships was not. The only interaction effect detected was between a vicarious history of trauma and years of experience in the prediction of trauma symptoms. Specifically, as years of experience and amount of vicarious trauma increase, trauma symptoms decrease at a progressively stronger rate. Finally, the current study failed to replicate previous research findings on relationships between trauma symptoms and the variables of vicarious exposure to trauma at work and years of experience. Few predictions regarding the belief in a just world were supported. Findings were integrated with results from other research studies in this area and interpreted within the framework of information-processing theories.