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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma by Tony Astro

For this discussion:
Describe the phenomena of vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue by identifying the signs and symptoms of these stress-induced challenges and what can lead to their development.
Answer this question: On a macro level, what proactive mechanisms could be implemented at worksites to assist counselors with these stress-induced challenges?
Use the Dunkley and Whelan article, “Vicarious Traumatisation: Current Status and Future Directions,” and the course text to support your discussion.


One of the many qualities of a good counselor is empathy . Without knowing the issue either through personal experience or learning from previous patients, not setting up boundaries or proper counseling process on how much counselors gets involve in client’s traumatic experience such as rape, depression, alcoholism, economic, and other social disorder may result to Vicarious Traumatization (VT) or Compassion Fatigue (CT), secondary traumatic stress disorder (STSD) or a simple burnout.

The psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual toll that burnout, CT, VT can have on individuals and their families and friends can be short lived or long lasting (Patrick, 2007). For definition, most of the studies on VT are referred through McCann and Pearlman (1990) who conceptualized the risks of working with trauma clients as vicarious traumatisation. (Spelling of traumatisation vs. traumatization is kept from original reference of transcripts) This refers to the transformation that is thought to take place within the counselor as a result of empathic engagement with the trauma client (Thomson, 2003). For McCann and Pearlman, vicarious traumatisation is a normal reaction to trauma work and so it does not pertain to any particular therapeutic approach (Dunkley and Whelan, 2006).

This counselor has limited experience in the military of such type of counseling except burnout comes closer to mind. Any events including alcoholism, post deployments, suicidal tendencies or financial difficulties can sometimes affect the emotional capacity of the counselors when clients suffers from such events. When referring to previous experience of this counselor, it brings back a memory that triggers hurtful recollections affecting objective counseling. Biased personal solutions are sometimes given to the client because that was the strongest moment of relief helpful personally to this counselor.

Vicarious traumatisation appears to be a natural by-product of relieving trauma clients’ emotional suffering and so is a crucial issue for helping professionals. Researchers need to investigate vicarious traumatisation amongst a variety of professionals who work with a range of clients who have experienced trauma. One group that requires particular research attention is telephone counselors. (Dunkley and Whelan, 2006)

Many social workers are also telephone counselors. The 9/11 events within the New York area may be composed of clients and counselors who have experience such devastating experience of deaths and grotesque killings of many people including co-workers or family of counselor and counselee.

Pearlman and Mac Ian (1995) reported that therapists who work with trauma victims and who have a personal trauma history show more negative effects from their work than those therapists without a personal trauma history. McCann and Pearlman (1990) suggested that vicarious traumatization among professionals working with victims result from the inability of the therapists to process the traumatic clinical material in which they hear. (Farrar, website)

There should be boundaries when dealing with a client whose trauma is similar to the counselors. Outsourcing help from a non-biased counselor should help facilitate some of the counseling. Not necessarily taking over the responsibility but getting second opinions just like in any medical profession must be sought after by the counselors. Part of being an effective counselor is interacting with other group or set of contacts that will help both the counselor and counselee.

Trauma work should not be done in isolation. Regardless of a social worker’s practice setting or agency, having supportive colleagues can reduce isolation and create lighter moments. Work in the trauma field may whittle away at social workers’ natural abilities to trust. It is important for workers to learn to share positive connections with others. This can occur through formal supervision or peer groups, or informally through social gatherings. Positive connections are instrumental in reminding workers of the meaningful and rewarding elements of life at home and work. Seeking and nurturing supportive relationships with peers, actively engaging in supervision, and talking to friends are other avenues of connection. (Clemans, 2004)

Clemans, S. E. , Understanding Vicarious Traumatization – Strategies for Social Workers, Journal: Social Work Today, Vol. 4 No. 2 p. 13

Dunkley, J. and Whelan, T., British Journal of Guidance & Counseling; Feb2006, Vol. 34 Issue 1, p 107-116, 10p

Farrar, A. E., Vicarious Traumatization of the Mental Health Professional, Retrieved on October 22, 2008 from

Patrick, P. , Contemporary issues in counseling, Pearson Education, 2007, p. 211
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