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Psychol Trauma. 2019 Jan;11(1):10-18. doi: 10.1037/tra0000414. Epub 2018 Oct 22.

Secondary trauma among trauma researchers: Lessons from the field.

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Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University.
Department of Psychology.



There is a substantial body of research that indicates that professionals treating traumatized clients or patients may suffer from burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, or secondary traumatic stress and that those who are most empathic are most vulnerable. However, there is limited research on the effects of participant trauma on trauma researchers. This is the focus of the current study.


Drawing on case illustrations from a large trauma-related study, we demonstrate the effects of participant trauma on trauma interviewers.


The experiences of fieldworkers in this study often mirror the syndromes found among "flooded" therapists, suggesting that it is the listening, and not so much the purpose for which one is listening, that can result in trauma-by-proxy.


Recommendations: Ethics applications should include a provision for the proper care for trauma researchers, who may, without support, develop symptoms of secondary traumatic stress. Training and regular supervision should become a mandatory part of trauma research practice, and if trauma levels are high, the principal researcher may need to invite a trauma counselor to do debriefing. In contexts where trauma levels are as high as in South Africa, fieldworkers are entitled to debriefing by an appropriately trained professional. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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