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Counseling Trauma Victims Causes Secondary Trauma, Study Shows

April 22, 2008
Geisinger Health System
In a study of several hundred New York City social workers after Sept. 11, new research finds that mental health workers themselves can experience a psychological problem known as secondary trauma. The study in Research on Social Work Practice shows a clear link between secondary or vicarious trauma and counseling.

Hearing repeated stories of suffering from trauma victims causes serious psychological stress in clinical social workers, a new Geisinger-led study suggests.

In a study appearing in the May edition of Research on Social Work Practice, Geisinger Senior Investigator Joseph Boscarino, PhD, MPH and his co-researchers examined psychological stress, job burnout and secondary trauma among 236 New York City social workers following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Secondary trauma includes experiencing symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress such as having nightmares or flashbacks, being easily startled and avoiding situations that remind one of the original trauma. Sometimes called vicarious trauma, it can seriously impact the mental health of counselors, first responders, critical care nurses and others in healthcare professions involved with treating those exposed to traumatic events, Boscarino said.

The study found that involvement in World Trade Center recovery effort was the primary reason why social workers experienced secondary trauma.

The research also showed that a positive work environment for social workers helped reduce secondary trauma and prevent job burnout.

"Listening to a person's traumatic experiences can be a very difficult experience for a clinician," Boscarino said. "Sometimes caregivers need emotional support of their own and if they don't get it, they can become emotionally ill."

The goal is to study this issue among a larger group of healthcare professionals and develop a more definitive tool for diagnosing secondary trauma, Boscarino said.

The research team for this study also included Richard E. Adams, PhD of Kent State University and Charles R. Figley, PhD of Florida State University.

The National Institute of Health and Green Cross Foundation at Florida State funded the study.

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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Geisinger Health System. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Geisinger Health System. "Counseling Trauma Victims Causes Secondary Trauma, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 April 2008. <>.
Geisinger Health System. (2008, April 22). Counseling Trauma Victims Causes Secondary Trauma, Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2015 from
Geisinger Health System. "Counseling Trauma Victims Causes Secondary Trauma, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. (accessed November 26, 2015).

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