"Vicarious traumatization in therapists working with trauma : do defences make a difference?"
Dubock, Urishka Sharee.
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Vicarious traumatization presents a significant concern for therapists around the globe. In South Africa, research around therapist wellbeing appears lacking. Despite various international studies on vicarious trauma, there remains a lack of conceptual clarity and comprehensive theory on vicarious trauma in therapists. Several studies have attempted to find factors associated with the development of vicarious trauma, with varying outcomes. Factors such as history of personal trauma, trauma caseload and supervision have been found to be associated with vicarious trauma. However, few studies have focused on the possibility that defence style could play a significant role. Recent research by Adams and Riggs (2008) found trauma symptoms in trainee therapists to be significantly associated with defence style. The current study explored the relationship between vicarious trauma and defence style (image-distorting, affect-regulating and adaptive defence styles). In addition, demographic factors were analyzed to discover whether they may be better determinants of vicarious trauma. The study used 127 participants (independent practitioners) from across South Africa. Participants were requested to complete three questionnaires: a demographic questionnaire, the DSQ 60 and the ProQol 5. Data were analyzed using a quantitative, positivist method. Correlations were used to identify significant relationships among the variables and a series of multiple regressions were conducted to explore predictive factors of the defence styles. Multiple regressions were also used to explore the predictive ability of the demographic variables and professional quality of life. The findings indicated a strong positive relationship between image distorting defence style and vicarious trauma. Of the demographic factors analyzed, therapeutic modality was found to be a significant predictor of vicarious trauma. A significant negative correlation was also found between help seeking for personal trauma and compassion satisfaction. This study provides evidence for the relationship between defence style and vicarious trauma. Further, it is indicative that most demographic factors had no effect on professional quality of life and ultimately, vicarious trauma. The current study suggests that further research needs to be done to further investigate the impact of defence style on vicarious traumatization. Implications, limitations and future directions of these findings are discussed further.