The experiences of vicarious trauma and its related coping strategies among a group of South African psychologists : a phenomenological study
Significant research efforts have focused on developing treatments for trauma survivors and evaluating their effectiveness. However, little attention has been given to understanding the impact of working with trauma survivors on psychologists. This research aimed to address this gap in the literature. In South Africa, there is a scarcity of published qualitative studies that focus on the experiences of VT among psychologists who work with survivors of trauma. Given the increasing prevalence of traumatic events in South Africa and increasing patient load, psychologists may be vulnerable to the development of VT. Beneficial treatments for trauma survivors largely depend on psychologists who can effectively handle their clients' intense traumatic material. If a psychologist is adversely affected by the work of trauma, the quality of treatment for trauma survivors will be compromised (Figley, 1999). Hence, it is critical that research continues to explore the effects of VT and ways to ameliorate them. Aim: to explore the experiences of VT among a group of psychologists from Cape Town, South Africa, who work with trauma survivors and the related coping strategies used by them. This research aimed to expand the local research on the phenomenon of VT. Findings of the study will help to facilitate a better understanding of vicarious impact of trauma work as well as the related coping techniques used by psychologists. Identification of protective factors and effective coping mechanisms of those professionals in this study was a distinct contribution to the South African literature base. This study has practical implications for training, supervision and clinical practice for psychologists in South Africa to enhance the efficiency of psychological service delivery. Exploring the challenges South African psychologists experience as a result of working with trauma survivors may help inform policy and develop effective programmes to address the effects of VT. As such, psychologists would be better equipped to care both for themselves and their clients, and to ensure ethical and professional practice.