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Vicarious Traumatization: A Guide to Recognizing, Responding to, and Preventing a Serious Consequence of Providing Mental Health Care in Jails, Prisons, and Community Corrections

by Maria Masotta PsyD., is a Senior Clinical Operations Specialist with MHM

ABSTRACT:  Clinical staff, correctional officers, administrators, and medical personnel working in correctional mental health settings are at heightened risk for vicarious, or secondary, traumatization.  Empathic engagement with inmates’ traumatization can threaten one’s sense of safety, hope, integrity, competence and purpose.  Neither uniforms nor professional degrees provide insulation from this syndrome.  Vicarious traumatization is under-recognized.  It may result from a one-time encounter with an inmate or a cumulative exposure to inmates’ traumas over years of working in correctional facilities.  It is more likely to occur and persist when staff work in demanding, high-stress environments and when staff are routinely re-exposed to triggers that may resemble the primary trauma.   Jails and prisons are just such environments.  Limited resources; physical plant challenges; crowding; the responsibility to maintain safety and security in the face of continuous risks to staff and inmates; and exposure to violent inmate behaviors are among the stressors.  Indeed, jails and prisons raise the risk for staff to be affected by both primary and secondary traumatization.  Recognizing and addressing signs of vicarious traumatization is key to maintaining professional boundaries and effective treatment with inmates; to providing colleagues with appropriate support to minimize burn-out; and to extending the longevity of a career to which many staff are passionately committed.  Prevention and intervention tools to reduce the impact of vicarious traumatization in our workforce are presented and discussed.

 

 




Posted Fri, Mar 11 2011 4:00 PM by Tracey Vessels

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