The secondary consequences of the helping profession : an exploration of trainee psychologists’ attitudes and perceptions towards vicarious trauma.
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The primary objective of this research was to initiate exploratory research in to the attitudes, perceptions, and experiences of trainee psychologists with regard to vicarious trauma. This research focused on exploring student psychologists’ understanding of vicarious trauma, which included an exploration of its symptoms, consequences, risk factors, and coping methods. A central focus of this study was also to gain an understanding of the challenges that student psychologists experience during their M1 year, as well as their knowledge/awareness of vicarious trauma. An underlying aim was to generate suggestions for education and training programmes in order to increase such knowledge so that trainee psychologists are better prepared to cope with the secondary consequences of the helping profession. The understanding of vicarious trauma was situated within Constructivist Self-Development Theory described by Trippany, Kress and Wilcoxon (2004). Semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted with six respondents. Braun and Clarke’s (2006) method of qualitative thematic analysis was used to analyse and interpret the data. A prominent finding of this research was that the participants had a basic understanding of vicarious trauma in terms of its symptoms and consequences, but struggled to conceptualize the phenomenon. It was evident that the student psychologists believed vicarious trauma to be a severe consequence of the helping profession but felt that more could be done during their education and training to increase knowledge and awareness of the concept and ultimately their ability to cope with it should they experience it. Suggestions offered by the participants included seminars on vicarious trauma, group mentoring and debriefing sessions, and more exposure to trauma cases in order to gain practical knowledge rather than theoretical knowledge without the know-how. It was concluded that there is a need within masters training programmes to incorporate a focus on vicarious trauma, which will act as a buffer to decrease risk.