Preventing vicarious traumatization of mental health therapists: Identifying protective practices

Psychotherapy (Chic). 2009 Jun;46(2):203-19. doi: 10.1037/a0016081.


This qualitative study identified protective practices that mitigate risks of vicarious traumatization (VT) among mental health therapists. The sample included six peer-nominated master therapists, who responded to the question, "How do you manage to sustain your personal and professional well-being, given the challenges of your work with seriously traumatized clients?" Data analysis was based upon Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, and Zilber's (1998) typology of narrative analysis. Findings included nine major themes salient across clinicians' narratives of protective practices: countering isolation (in professional, personal and spiritual realms); developing mindful self-awareness; consciously expanding perspective to embrace complexity; active optimism; holistic self-care; maintaining clear boundaries; exquisite empathy; professional satisfaction; and creating meaning. Findings confirm and extend previous recommendations for ameliorating VT and underscore the ethical responsibility shared by employers, educators, professional bodies, and individual practitioners to address this serious problem. The novel finding that empathic engagement with traumatized clients appeared to be protective challenges previous conceptualizations of VT and points to exciting new directions for research, theory, training, and practice. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved).