The effects of secondary trauma on professionals working with victims and survived traumatized individuals

Konistan, Rita (2017) The effects of secondary trauma on professionals working with victims and survived traumatized individuals. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Research on secondary traumatisation suggests that there is a certain overlap in terminologies used in the literature that are related to the concept of secondary traumatic stress. These interchangeable concepts include vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout and countertransference. The main aims of the current study are to investigate the differences between various terms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) including secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue and burnout. The present research also aims to investigate the impact (direct and indirect influences) of secondary trauma on professionals working with victims and survived traumatized individuals.

It was predicted that health workers who are exposed to psychological or physical traumas would experience secondary traumatic stress. In addition, it was also hypothesized that there would be gender differences in the intensity of secondary traumatic stress reactions. Longer years of employment were predicted to relate to lower levels of secondary traumatic stress. Furthermore, the profession would moderate the relationship between years of employment and secondary traumatic stress.

A sample of 210 professional staff, working in several hospitals and private clinics, and representing health and social care councils in London, United Kingdom completed four self-reported questionnaires measuring secondary traumatic stress. Several hypotheses were postulated and tested using correlation and hierarchical regression analyses. The results showed that a majority of professionals working with traumatized patients displayed symptoms related to secondary traumatic stress, in particular those professionals new to the field. However, a greater reduction in symptoms was observed the longer an individual had spent in the profession. This finding has suggested years of experience may help professionals employ resiliency against severe traumatic events.

Other interesting findings reported in this study suggested that females are inclined to experience higher secondary traumatic stress symptoms than males, regardless of years of experience. The reported findings seem to be consistent with previously undertaken research (Figley 1995; Miller and McGowen 2000; Robinson 2003; Sonneck and Wagner 1996; Stamm 2000).

It should be emphasized here that extra care, attention and support are essential to new healthcare providers, especially during their first year of work. Researchers also need to develop intervention programmes that will assist healthcare providers in their vital work in trauma care settings – recognizing and dealing with the early stages of secondary stress symptoms and reactions is of the utmost importance.

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