Vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress or simply burnout? Effect of trauma therapy on mental health professionals

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009 Apr;43(4):373-85. doi: 10.1080/00048670902721079.


Objectives: The aim of the present study was to perform an assessment for secondary traumatic stress (STS), vicarious trauma (VT) and workplace burnout for Australian mental health professionals involved in clinical practice.

Methods: Recruited directly by mail, randomly selected participants were invited to submit a questionnaire by post or online. Of the 480 participants contacted, 152 mental health professionals completed the questionnaire, which contained measures of STS, VT and burnout.

Results: Exposure to patients' traumatic material did not affect STS, VT or burnout, contradicting the theory of the originators of STS and VT. Rather, it was found that work-related stressors best predicted therapist distress.

Conclusions: These findings have significant implications for the direction of research and theory development in traumatic stress studies, calling into question the existence of secondary trauma-related phenomena and enterprises aimed at treating the consultants.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology*
  • Demography
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Fatigue / diagnosis
  • Fatigue / epidemiology*
  • Fatigue / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / drug therapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult