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Working with sex offenders: the impact on Australian treatment providers

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This paper reports on an exploratory study of compassion fatigue, burnout, compassion satisfaction, and vicarious traumatization amongst sex offender treatment providers in Australia. The research uses a nationwide sample of treatment providers from correctional settings and quantitative and qualitative methods to assess the impact of working compassionately with sex offenders. In addition to assessing levels of negative psychological affect, the study also considers the influence of demographic and work-related variables and explores the coping strategies used and the role of collegial support in mediating any negative effects. Contrary to previous research within this field, the quantitative analysis determined low levels of vicarious trauma, and low to moderate levels of compassion fatigue and burnout amongst the sample. In addition, over 85% of the sample reported moderate to high levels of compassion satisfaction, indicating that they derived pleasure from their work. The work-related factors of environmental safety and role problems were found to significantly predict the compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue variables respectively, indicating the influence of organizational factors on psychological wellbeing. The qualitative analysis, however, revealed shifts in the cognitive schemas of the sample to accommodate the traumatic material to which they are exposed. Given that such shifts were observed but negative psychological impact was not, future research could usefully draw on the psychological resilience literature in an investigation of the qualities which protect treatment providers from negative psychological consequences.

Keywords: compassion fatigue; interventions; treatment staff; vicarious traumatization

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Psychology: Forensic Section, University of Leicester, Leicester, LE1 7EA, UK 2: Grampians Community Health Centre, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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