Comprehensive model for vicarious traumatization: examining the effect of therapist, work, and supportive factors on vicarious traumatization

Amy Marie Williams
Heather M. Helm
Elysia V. Clemens


Professional counselors' exposure to demoralizing, tragic stories of trauma, disempowerment and abuse is inevitable. The effects of exposure to traumatized clients on professional counselors have received increased attention in the literature (e.g. Figley, 1995; McCann & Pearlman, 1990a; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995). Scholars identified the development of vicarious traumatization as one of the most extreme effects of working with traumatized clients; however, not all practitioners working with traumatized clients will develop vicarious traumatization (McCann & Pearlman; Pearlman & Saakvitne). This study addressed the gap in the literature regarding the examination of a comprehensive theoretical model for vicarious traumatization based on the constructivist self-development theory (CSDT). Path analytic procedures were used to assess a comprehensive theoretical model of vicarious traumatization. Based on the CSDT, the path model tested the effects of a combination of organizational factors (i.e. job satisfaction and workload), clinical supervision (i.e. supervisory working alliance), personal wellness, and childhood trauma on vicarious traumatization in practitioners working in community mental health centers. Results of this study provided insight into the effect of therapist, work, and supportive factors on vicarious traumatization. While the CSDT failed to provide a comprehensive framework for vicarious traumatization, results of this study explained 46% of the variance in vicarious traumatization in practitioners surveyed. Childhood trauma and personal wellness had significant effects on vicarious traumatization, whereas the effects of supervisory working alliance, organizational culture, and workload were not statistically significant. Examination of these results within the context of the literature provided practical implications for practitioners, counselor educators and supervisors in decreasing the impact of vicarious traumatization in practitioners.