Secondary and vicarious traumatization among domestic violence shelter staff

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Kreinath, Refika S.
Burdsal, Charles A.
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Workers of domestic violence shelters belong to professionals who regularly encounter crisis situations and hear trauma stories that can lead to indirect traumatization. Secondary trauma can influence professionals as if they are experiencing the trauma of their clients, and hence lead to symptoms that resemble post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Figley, 1995a). Vicarious trauma describes the long-term effects of working with traumatized clients that can change helpers? cognitive schemas and imagery system of memory (McCann & Pearlman, 1990). Through conducting a case study with the staff members of a domestic violence shelter, the current study sought to explore to what extent the helpers are influenced by secondary and vicarious trauma. A further point of interest in this study was to examine the self-care and coping strategies utilized by the staff members to deal with the work stress. Fifteen staff members participated in the qualitatively designed research that, besides individual interviews, also included a questionnaire to measure secondary traumatic stress and compassion satisfaction. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the interviews from which three broad themes emerged, including work in the area of domestic violence, strengths and challenges of the workplace culture, and self-care and coping strategies. According to the scores of the survey, none of the participants showed high level of secondary traumatic stress while their level of compassion satisfaction was either average or high. The thematic analysis implied that participants have possible changes in their cognitive schemas as suggested by the construct of vicarious traumatization. This study suggests that the self-care and coping strategies employed by participants in and outside of the workplace help to decrease and prevent the stress of working with traumatized clients.

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Thesis (Ph.D.)-- Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Psychology
Wichita State University
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