Year of Publication

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Education

Department

Educational and Counseling Psych

First Advisor

Dr. Pamela Remer

Abstract

Recent concerns have arisen about the effects on counselors of working with trauma survivors. Vicarious traumatization may be a normal developmental process of adapting to client trauma material and may ultimately result in vicarious posttraumatic growth, or positive changes arising from vicarious trauma. Most studies have focused on individual variables or clinician coping strategies that predict vicarious traumatization. Taking a feminist approach to vicarious traumatization, this study examined the role of workplace context variables, such as sense of belonging in the workplace and support for vicarious trauma at work, on counselor vicarious traumatization and vicarious posttraumatic growth. Stratified random sampling was used to recruit counselors from domestic violence and rape crisis centers, and recruitment messages were sent to all psychology internship and postdoctoral sites in the United States which were accredited by the American Psychological Association. Surveys were completed by 234 counselors.

Counselors reported sub-clinical levels of vicarious trauma symptoms (intrusions, avoidance, and hyperarousal resulting from work with trauma survivors). Results of hierarchical regression analyses indicated that amount and intensity of exposure to client trauma material positively predicted vicarious trauma symptoms, and sense of belonging in the workplace negatively predicted vicarious trauma symptoms. Intensity of exposure, work setting, and support for vicarious trauma at work predicted vicarious posttraumatic growth, so that counselors exposed to more graphic details of client trauma, those working in domestic violence or rape crisis centers, and counselors with more support for vicarious trauma at work reported more vicarious posttraumatic growth. The relation between amount of exposure and vicarious posttraumatic growth was moderated by intensity of exposure and by sense of belonging in the workplace. Counselors with low sense of belonging at work reported less vicarious posttraumatic growth when amount of exposure was high, whereas counselors with high sense of belonging reported more vicarious posttraumatic growth with high exposure. Results suggest that counselors’ reactions to client trauma material are normal rather than pathological, are largely due to exposure to client trauma, and can be affected by workplace context factors, especially sense of belonging in the workplace and support for vicarious trauma at work.

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