Working with the psychological effects of trauma: consequences for mental health-care workers--a literature review

J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2003 Aug;10(4):417-24. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2850.2003.00620.x.


This literature review explores how interacting with seriously traumatized people has the potential to affect health-care workers. The review begins with an introduction to post-traumatic stress disorder as being one of the possible negative consequences of exposure to traumatic events. The report proceeds with examining the concepts of vicarious traumatization, secondary traumatic stress, traumatic countertransference, burnout and compassion fatigue, as potential adverse consequences for workers who strive to help people who are traumatized. The differences between these concepts are also discussed. The notion of compassion satisfaction is examined as findings have demonstrated that it is a protective factor which can be used as a buffer to prevent the aforementioned concepts. Conversely, findings have shown that a history of previous stressful life events in helpers is a potential risk factor. The review concludes with an overview of the concepts considered, but cautions against generalization of the findings owing to the dearth of longitudinal studies into the issues raised and also the lack of investigation into the many different types of trauma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional
  • Countertransference
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Workforce