Abstract: A Mixed Methods Study of Vicarious Trauma Among Mental Health Professionals (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

649P A Mixed Methods Study of Vicarious Trauma Among Mental Health Professionals

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kaila Northcutt, MSW, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, TN
Rebecca Marcus Wheeler, DSW Student, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Bridget Schneiderman, DSW Student, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Morgan Cooley, PhD, Asst Professor, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Background: This mixed methods study examined (a) whether significant differences in vicarious trauma among mental health professionals existed based upon demographic characteristics; and (b) the methods they employ to manage vicarious trauma. The majority of participants in this sample previously served or worked primarily with vulnerable clients facing racial and economic disparity. Previous research has demonstrated a significant number of mental health practitioners are impacted by symptoms of vicarious trauma, which has the potential to impact their work with clients. However, few studies have examined multiple individual and setting-oriented risks associated with vicarious trauma, as well as means of managing or ameliorating vicarious trauma. Thus, research focused on expanding our understanding of vicarious trauma and the impact of coping methods is needed.


Methods: Data were collected using a cross-sectional design and online survey. The sample included 168 mental health professionals (social workers, mental health counselors, marriage & family therapists, psychologists) in the United States who were recruited via multiple Facebook groups for mental health professionals or by invite from agencies that were willing to participate. Participants were primarily female (n = 125), white (n = 135), and held a masters degree (n = 112). Descriptive statistics were used to describe vicarious trauma (three subscales: compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress [STS]), as measured by the Professional Quality of Life scale version 5 (Stamm, 2009). Independent samples t tests, one-way ANOVA, and regression analyses were used to address demographic differences in vicarious trauma based upon: race/ethnicity, gender, mental health field (e.g., social work, marriage and family therapy, etc.), type of mental health setting (community v. private), and years of experience. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clark, 2006) was used to analyze open-ended questions, which asked participants how they prevented and coped with vicarious trauma.


Results: Descriptive statistics demonstrated that clinicians in this sample reported generally high compassion satisfaction and low burnout and STS. There were no significant differences vicarious trauma when comparing gender and race/ethnicity. Clinicians in community setting reported significantly lower compassion satisfaction and higher burnout than those in private practice. More years experience significantly correlated with higher compassion satisfaction and lower burnout and STS. Participants with a social work or marriage and family therapy degree reported significantly higher burnout than those with a psychology degree. Findings from the qualitative data demonstrated that the primary preventative measures utilized to prevent vicarious trauma are self-care, mindfulness, and strategic mentality. The primary coping strategies used to manage vicarious trauma are peer support/supervision, mindfulness, and self-care.


Implications: Findings suggest that practice setting, years of experiences, and degree type may influence vicarious trauma and that practitioners rely on a variety of techniques to manage their experiences. Thus, training programs need to better prepare practitioners to actively self-care upon graduation. Future studies should examine why difference exist in profession/practice setting. In addition, future studies should examine multiple professions and practice settings using a longitudinal design, accounting for mediators or moderators of vicarious trauma.