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Vicarious Trauma and Burnout in Juvenile Sex-Offender Therapists: A Grounded Theory Study

1 January 2017


A grounded theory study of the development of vicarious trauma/burnout among sex-offender therapists was conducted. Seven juvenile sex-offender therapists were interviewed about their experiences of vicarious trauma/burnout. Through a grounded theory analysis of interview data, themes were identified and a model was developed. The model includes a state of initial enthusiasm and eagerness as the therapist enters the field. Eventually, the therapist is faced with the chronic stress and clinical demands of juvenile sex-offender therapy. In the face of these stressors, the relative balance of protective factors and risk factors can lead to symptoms of vicarious trauma/burnout. Awareness of personal vicarious trauma/burnout risks and symptoms allows the therapist to actively/deliberately develop coping skills and supportive resources. If, at that point, the therapist’s protective factors outweigh his or her risk factors, he or she moves on to a state of equilibrium and adjustment to the stressors of juvenile sex-offender therapy. If not, he or she moves on to a state of chronic trauma and exhaustion. Risk factors inherent in juvenile sex-offender therapy, personal risk/protective factors, and contextual risk/protective factors are described.


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