Abstract: Secondary Traumatic Stress and Related Factors in Australian Social Workers and Psychologists (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

561P Secondary Traumatic Stress and Related Factors in Australian Social Workers and Psychologists

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Cindy Davis, PhD, Associate Dean, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Down, Australia
Matthew Moore, PhD, Post-Doctoral Research Associate, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Tamara Cadet, PhD, Associate Professor, Simmons College School of Social Work, Boston, MA
Background and purpose: Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is an indirect form of trauma affecting the psychological wellbeing of mental health workers. STS is found to be a prevalent risk in mental health occupations. Various factors impact the development of STS within the literature, including the level of trauma individuals are exposed to and their level of empathy. Research is limited on STS in mental health workers in Australia; therefore, this study examined STS and related factors of empathetic behaviour and trauma caseload among mental health workers.

Methods: The research utilized an online survey quantitative research design with a purposive sample of 190 mental (176 females, 13 males & 1 undisclosed). The majority of participants were between 35 to 44 years old. Of the participants 84.2% were Non-Indigenous, 1.6% were Indigenous and 14.2% identified as other.  Participants had worked in various fields throughout their career; over half of the participants had worked within mental health (38.4%) and health/hospital (37.4%) setting. Participants completed an online questionnaire comprising of demographics, the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale and the Empathy Scale for Social Workers. A moderated moderation model was constructed with the PROCESS macro for IBM SPSS, version 24. This model was used to evaluate the hypothesized relationship between the amount of trauma in clinician caseload and STS, as moderated by empathy and personal trauma history.

Results: More than one quarter of participants (29.5%) met the criteria for a diagnosis of STS. Results indicated that although caseload trauma was not an independent predictor of STS, there was a significant interaction between caseload trauma and personal trauma history (B = -5.132, t(179) = 2.255, p = .025) on STS. Similarly, empathy alone was not directly related to changes in STS (B = -.095, t(179) = -1.403, p = .1625). In the full moderated moderation model, the trauma in caseload effect on STS was moderated by empathy, and that relationship was moderated by personal trauma history. This overall effect was shown to significantly predict STS in clinicians (B = .028, t(179) = 2.155, p = .002).

Conclusions and Implications: The current study highlights the importance of developing evidence-based risk strategies to diminish the frequency at which mental health workers are experiencing symptoms of STS and implement treatment methods within the workplace so individuals that fit the criteria for STS could receive help to alleviate any distress. Thus far, the issue of STS within Australian mental health workers has been overlooked and for this reason little is known about the impact on personal and professional functioning within Australian mental health workers that reach a diagnosis of STS. Creating a greater awareness of the impact of STS in mental health workers and factors that increase the risk could increase longevity within the occupation and may positively impact the functioning of these individuals at risk.