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Vicarious Posttraumatic Growth in Psychotherapy

Previous investigations of the impact of trauma-related psychotherapy on clinicians have emphasized the hazardous nature of such work. The present study is the first exploration of clinicians’ perceptions of trauma work to investigate in depth the positive consequences of working with trauma survivors. A sample of 21 psychotherapists participated in a naturalistic interview exploring the impact of trauma work with a particular focus on (a) changes in memory systems and schemas about self and the world (the hallmarks of vicarious traumatization) and (b) perceived psychological growth. In addition to reporting several negative consequences, all of the clinicians in this sample described positive outcomes. These descriptions of positive sequelae are strikingly similar to reports of growth following directly experienced trauma and suggest that the potential benefits of working with trauma survivors may be significantly more powerful and far-reaching than the existing literature’s scant focus on positive sequelae would indicate.

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