Vicarious trauma and occupational hazard for forensic mental health professionals

Vicarious trauma or vicarious traumatization is the effects on a health-care worker that results from the empathic engagement or therapeutic relationship with clients or patients and their reports of traumatic experiences. The term was coined in response to the experience of psychotherapists working with trauma survivors and is widely attributed to McCann and Pearlman 1990 [1]. They developed a constructivist self-development theory discussing therapist reactions to clients’ traumatic material. They described that vicarious trauma can be understood as related to the graphic and painful material trauma clients portray to the therapists as well as the therapists unique cognitive schemas or beliefs and assumptions about self and others [1]. This theory has developed, has subsequently been described as compassion fatigue and has been subject to a considerable amount of research since this early description [2-18]. It has also focused on various professionals, including mental health professionals, and their vulnerability from working with a variety of clients or patients [4-6,8-10,12-14,19]. In this context, forensic mental health professionals are not specifically mentioned, although it is quite clear that the nature of the work that they do would make them vulnerable to vicarious trauma and “compassion fatigue.”

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