Research studies of the short- and long-term effects of trauma on the primary victims, or those who have directly experienced trauma, are numerous. In recent years, interest has branched from this area into the issue of how trauma affects the secondary victims or those who have been indirectly exposed to trauma.
Indirect exposure differs from the direct exposure of primary victims in that secondary victims witness the trauma only vicariously, as through the retelling of the experience. For mental health professionals, this type of vicarious exposure to trauma is an inherent part of the occupation.
As the number of studies examining secondary traumatization in mental health professionals is limited, these studies will be described in some detail. Variables that have been found to be related to secondary traumatization are a history of personal trauma, vicarious exposure to trauma at work, and years of experience working with trauma.
Effects of Trauma
Interrelationships among these variables and apparent contradictions about these findings will be elaborated and explored further. As the literature in this area is still growing, remaining unanswered questions about secondary traumatization will be identified.
Secondary traumatization refers to the traumatic reactions of individuals who have been indirectly exposed to trauma. When applied to the therapist, these reactions have been described as “a transformation in the therapist’s inner experience resulting from empathic engagement with clients’ trauma material.
These secondary traumatic reactions have also been conceptualized in terms of specific and observable symptoms that parallel the reactions of primary victim s of trauma. The interest in secondary traumatization over the past several years has generated a prolific amount of literature, largely theoretical in nature.
This theoretical productivity has far outstripped the number of empirical studies on the phenomenon, which has resulted in complex theoretical explanations of secondary traumatization, that are unable to be adequately tested in light of the current knowledge base.