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Causes and Effects of Vicarious Trauma to Social Workers

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1948 words Published: 6th Aug 2019

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Social working is a field that requires a lot of efforts and mobilization. If a person is a social worker, he/she needs to move around occasionally in order to reach people that are in need of help. Due to this, they are always going through physiological and psychological stress, that is highly associated with burn out. High burn out is also associated with a high turn around rate, which means people start to leave the job and start to search for better opportunities. Another term used this for the situation is known as “compassion Fatigue” which means an inescapable kind of stress in the social work profession, especially with providing care experts who have a high level of exposure to people encountering some type of mental, therapeutic, or social injury and additionally are injury survivors themselves. This paper aims to discuss vicarious trauma to social workers and its effect on the burnout and turn around rate. 

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Main Body

It has been discussed that since social workers are highly exposed to the traumatic situation of others, such as rape, accident or killing, they are more exposed to stress than other people. The stress in them causes various problems. This examination analyzes the initial and intelligent impacts of job stress, work independence, and social help in foreseeing burnout and turnover goal among social workers. A study was conducted in this regard. The investigation incorporated a subsample of 346 social workers recognized from an irregular cross-sectional overview of 1,500 California state-enrolled social workers. Balanced for age, sexual orientation, authoritative residency, and yearly compensation, basic condition examinations uncovered that job stress had a positive direct impact on burnout (Kim & Stoner, 2008).

The factors of social help and employment self-sufficiency had a negative direct impact on turnover expectation, however not on burnout. Results demonstrated that activity self-sufficiency cooperated with job stress in foreseeing burnout, while social help associated with job stress in anticipating turnover goal (Kim & Stoner, 2008). Study results recommend that making decentralized employment conditions is basic for forestalling burnout, and that building steady occupation conditions is expected to hold social workers who are encountering high job stress.

It has been said that the level of exposure to the stress may likewise incorporate the nature, length, recurrence, and extent of contact with survivors.  In this condition, where the recurrence and power of contact was high, these social specialists experienced incessant side effects related with vicarious injury, for example, maltreatment of synthetic substances, investing less energy with clients, lateness, and non-appearance to their jobs, making proficient mistakes, being reproachful of others, and depersonalizing clients (Morse et al., 2012).

There have been various systematic researches that aim to explore the link between burn out and high turn around rate in social workers due to elevated stress caused by vicarious trauma. Staff burnout is progressively seen as a worry in the social wellness field. In this article, the researchers initially analyze the degree to which burnout is an issue for emotional health in social settings regarding two basic issues: its predominance and its relationship with a scope of troubling results for staff, associations, and clients. The researchers in this way give an extensive audit of the restricted research in an attempt to remediate burnout among social well-being staff (Figley, 2013). The researchers settled the conclusions with proposals for the improvement and thorough testing of intercession ways to deal with addressing this critical zone of working.

Social workers are in danger for encountering burnout and secondary traumatic stress (STS) because of the idea of their work and the settings inside which they work. Little consideration has been paid to the variables inside a social worker’s control that may counteract burnout and STS and enhance compassion fulfillment. Empathy, which is a mix of physiological and subjective procedures, might be an apparatus to help to address the burnout and STS. An article writes about the discoveries of an investigation of social workers (N = 173) that investigated the connection between the segments of empathy, burnout, STS, and compassion fulfillment utilizing the Empathy Assessment Index and the Professional Quality of Life instruments (Wagaman, Geiger, Shockley & Segal, 2015).

Through above-stated research, it was speculated that larger amounts of empathy would be related to lower dimensions of burnout and STS and more elevated amounts of compassion fulfillment. Discoveries propose that segments of empathy may anticipate or diminish burnout and STS while expanding compassion fulfillment, and that empathy ought to be consolidated into preparing and instruction throughout the course of a social worker’s vocational abilities (Wagaman, Geiger, Shockley & Segal, 2015). Thus, it can be said that the stress experienced by social workers is responsible for their elevated stress levels and burnout. Therefore, they tend to leave their jobs.

To explore this phenomenon in depth, there have been more studies conducted on the topic that is able to give a different view of this phenomenon. Such as a child safety based social work is recognized as an exceptionally stressful occupation, with high turnover and poor maintenance of staff being a noteworthy concern. A research paper features topic that rose up out of discoveries of sixty-five articles that were incorporated as a major aspect of an orderly writing survey. The survey concentrated on the assessment of research discoveries, which considered individual and other components related to flexibility or burnout in child safety social work staff. The outcomes distinguished a scope of individual and organizational topics for staff in child assurance social work. Nine subjects were distinguished altogether (McFadden, Campbell & Taylor, 2014). These are sorted under ‘Individual’ and ‘Authoritative’ topics.

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Furthermore, the topics were arranged as individual included the individual history of abuse, preparing and readiness for child welfare, adapting, horrendous secondary stress, compassion weariness and compassion fulfillment. Those named authoritative included workload, social help and supervision, hierarchical culture and atmosphere, authoritative and proficient responsibility, and employment fulfillment or disappointment. The scope of variables is examined with suggestions and territories for future research are featured (McFadden, Campbell & Taylor, 2014). This meta-analysis is a good indicator of the idea that burnout and increased turn around rates are among a few issues caused by stress due to the job as a social worker.

Another investigation analyzed the feeling of burnout among 126 social workers who specifically treat children and youths inside the human professions of services. Burnout was explored in connection to social workers’ statistic attributes (age, family status, instruction, and rank at work), extraneous and inborn work conditions, and social help by associates, coordinate chiefs, and association supervisors. Discoveries demonstrated, all things considered, a moderate power of burnout among these social workers who straightforwardly treat children and young people. Burnout was essentially adversely corresponded with age, rank, characteristic (mental) work conditions, and social help inside the association. Associate and manager support contributed altogether to clarifying the variance in burnout force. Different clarifications have also been done in this regard(Hamama, 2012).

With the environmental change, social workers and other psychological well-being experts may wind up living and working in conditions inclined to cataclysmic events. The term shared awful stress (SdTS) contains parts of post-horrendous stress and secondary injury, and mirrors experts’ double presentation to aggregate awful mishaps. With an end goal to investigate and further approve the develop of SdTS, an example of 244 social workers from New Orleans were contemplated utilizing way explanatory demonstrating regarding the individual and expert effect of Hurricane Katrina. Potential hazard factors included connection style, presentation to conceivably horrendous life occasions and persisting distress credited to Hurricane Katrina. Social workers’ flexibility was analyzed for its job in intervening the connection between these hazard elements and SdTS. As speculated, shaky connection, more noteworthy presentation to possibly horrible life occasions by and large and distress identified with the occasions encompassing Hurricane Katrina were prescient of more elevated amounts of SdTS (Tosone, McTighe, & Bauwens, 2014).

Shaky connection and persisting distress credited to Katrina likewise altogether anticipated lower dimensions of flexibility, however presentation to conceivably horrendous life occasions did not. Flexibility was found to intercede the connection between shaky connection, continuing distress ascribed to Katrina and SdTS however not the connection between presentation to conceivably horrible life occasions and SdTS (Tosone, McTighe, & Bauwens, 2014).


Through all the discussion on the available literature, it can be stated that Social workers are directly exposed to severe forms of stress and mental health issues. This could be the reason due to which burnout and turn around has been observed in the social workers. Furthermore, there is a need to discuss why this problem has been observed, and how it can be managed. Moreover, there is a need to devise policies for the mental health of social workers, in order to provide them with a suitable environment to work in.


  • Figley, C. R. (2013). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. Routledge.
  • Hamama, L. (2012). Burnout in Social Workers Treating Children as Related to Demographic Characteristics, Work Environment, and Social Support. Social Work Research36(2), 113-125. doi: 10.1093/swr/svs003
  • Kim, H., & Stoner, M. (2008). Burnout and Turnover Intention Among Social Workers: Effects of Role Stress, Job Autonomy, and Social Support. Administration In Social Work32(3), 5-25. doi: 10.1080/03643100801922357
  • McFadden, P., Campbell, A., & Taylor, B. (2014). Resilience and Burnout in Child Protection Social Work: Individual and Organisational Themes from a Systematic Literature Review. British Journal Of Social Work45(5), 1546-1563. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bct210
  • Morse, G., Salyers, M.P., Rollins, A.L. et al. Adm Policy Ment Health (2012) 39: 341. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-011-0352-1
  • Tosone, C., McTighe, J. P., & Bauwens, J. (2014). Shared traumatic stress among social workers inthe aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. British Journal of Social Work45(4), 1313-1329.
  • Wagaman, M., Geiger, J., Shockley, C., & Segal, E. (2015). The Role of Empathy in Burnout, Compassion Satisfaction, and Secondary Traumatic Stress among Social Workers. Social Work60(3), 201-209. doi: 10.1093/sw/swv014


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