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Vicarious traumatization and burnout in child welfare caseworkers and therapists who work with abused and neglected children

9 December 2005


This paper provides a comprehensive review of the research literature available on the topic of vicarious traumatization and burnout among child welfare and mental health professionals. More specifically, the literature regarding those professionals who work with abused or neglected children and other victims of trauma will be reviewed and synthesized. Vicarious traumatization is a permanent alteration in the cognitive schemas of a helper that results from empathic engagement with clients and their trauma material (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995). Burnout is conceptualized as the psychological strain that often results from working with difficult populations (Maslach, 1982). These constructs, if experienced by the child welfare and mental health worker, have the potential to significantly affect the worker's ability to fulfill the responsibilities of his or her job, which then could result in lower positive client outcomes and an overall reduction in organizational effectiveness. This review applies the available research literature, regarding this population and these constructs, to Kahn and Byosiere's comprehensive model of stress in organizations developed in 1992. This model delineates a worker's experience of stress into seven categories (i.e., organizational antecedents to stress, stressors in organizational life, perceptions and cognitions, responses to stress, consequences of stress, properties of the person as stress moderators, and properties of the situation as stress moderators). Applicable research is discussed within each category of the model of stress. Prevention of vicarious traumatization and burnout and interventions with this population are explored and models for the future are proposed.


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