Does helping hurt the helper? – An investigation into the impacts of vicarious traumatisation on social work practitioners in Hawke’s Bay, Aotearoa New Zealand


  • Samantha Smith Registered social worker, Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Sue Hanna Greenwich University, England



Vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, burn out, stress, self-care, social work


INTRODUCTION: This article is based on the findings of a Bachelor of Social Work Honours student research project investigating the impacts of vicarious traumatisation (VT) on a small sample of frontline social work practitioners in the Hawke’s Bay region of Aotearoa New Zealand.

METHOD: Semi-structured, one-to-one interviews with the four participants were used to collect the data and the interviews took place in 2019. A thematic analysis approach was applied to identify key themes within and across the data set.

FINDINGS: Three of the four social workers had experienced VT resulting from their work with clients with histories of trauma. Participants, however, were also able to identify a range of self- care management strategies they utilised to support and enhance their health and wellbeing. In addition, several important organisational supports were also identified. These included a workplace culture that recognised VT, clinical supervision, Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) services and supportive supervisors and managers.

IMPLICATIONS: The study demonstrates that VT and its associated impacts on social workers are important issues requiring ongoing acknowledgement and research in the New Zealand social work context.


Attride-Stirling, J. (2001). Thematic networks: An analytic tool for qualitative research. SAGE Publications.

Baird, K., & Kracen, A. C. (2006). Vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress: A research synthesis. Counselling, Psychology Quarterly, 19(2), 181–188. EBSCOHost Database. ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=7&sid=7be50bb4-3569- 4faa-b813-a617aa357de7%40pdc-v-sessmgr02

Branson, D. C. (2018). Vicarious trauma, themes in research, and terminology: A review of literature. American Psychological Association, 25(1), 2–10. http://dx.doi. org/10.1037/trm0000161

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. Sage.

Bryman, A. (2016). Social research methods (5th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Canadian Centre of Torture Victims. (2017). Vicarious trauma & self-care. CCR Consultation, Edmonton. vicarioustraumaself-care_ccvt.pdf

Carey, M. (2012). Qualitative research skills for social work: Theory and practice. Ashgate Publishing.

Carey, M. (2013). The social work dissertation: Using small- scale qualitative methodology. Open University Press.

Cunningham, M. (2003). Impact of trauma work on social work clinicians: Empirical Findings. EBSCOHost database detail?vid=9&sid=7be50bb4-3569-4faa-b813- a617aa357de7%40pdc-v-sessmgr02&bdata=JnNpdGU9 ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=106730724&db=c8h

Donaldson, W. (2018). Trauma informed care: Literature scan. Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui, Auckland. care-literature-scan-full-report

Dombo, E. A., & Blome, W. W. (2016). Vicarious trauma in child welfare workers: A study of organizational responses. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 10(5), 505–523. 06506

EAP Services. (2019). Employee Assistance Programme. assistance-programme/

Fogel, A. (2015). Effective ways social workers respond to secondary trauma [Master of Social Work Clinical Research Papers]. St Catherine University. cgi?article=1446&context=msw_papers

Figley, C., R. (1995). Compassion fatigue as secondary traumatic stress disorder: An overview. Compassion_fatigue_as_secondary_traumatic_stress_ disorder_An_overview

Flynn, C., & McDermott, F. (2016). Doing research in social work and social care. The journey from student to practitioner researcher. SAGE Publications.

Goldblatt, H., & Buchbinder, E. (2003). Challenging gender roles: The impact on female social work students of working with abused women. Journal of Social Work Education, 39(2), 255–275.

Health and Safety at Work Act. (2015). https://legislation.

Hooyman, N., & Kramer, B. (2006). Living through loss: Interventions across the life span [ebook].

Huggard, P., Law, J., & Newcombe, D. (2017). A systematic review exploring the presence of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress in alcohol and other drug clinicians. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 21(2).

Izzo, E. & Miller, V., C. (2018). Second-hand shock. Surviving & overcoming vicarious trauma. Unhooked Books.

Kearns, S., & McArdle, K. (2011). “Doing it right?” – accessing the narratives of identity of newly qualified social workers through the lens of resilience: “I am, I have, I can.” Child and Family Social Work, 17, 385–394. https://doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2011.00792.x

Kimes, A, T. (2016). Burnout rates among social workers: A systematic review and synthesis. https://scholarworks. d cgi?referer= e=1452&context=etd

Laing, D. (2019). 20 years on from one of NZ’s worst child abuse cases: “Nothing’s changed.” https://www.nzherald. of-nzs-worst-child-abuse-cases-nothings-changed/ T3YW75JLWTQEQHFFBF4JUUP5JM/

Lee, J. A., & Miller, S. M. (2013). A self-care framework for social workers. Building a strong foundation for practice. Journal of Families in Society:

The Journal of Contemporary Human Services. https://doi:10.1606/1044-3894.4289

Lewig, K., & McLean, S. (2016). Caring for our frontline child protection workforce. Child Family Community Australia Information Exchange. cfca/publications/caring-our-frontline-child-protection- workforce

Lindy, J. D. (1985). The trauma membrane and other clinical concepts derived from psychotherapeutic work with survivors of natural disasters. Psychiatric Annals, 15(3), 153–160. 19850301-06

Lloyd, C., King, R., & Chenoweth, L. (2002). Social work, stress and burnout: A review. Journal of Mental Health.

Marlowe, J., & Adamson, C. (2011). Teaching trauma: Critically engaging a troublesome term. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 30(6), 623–634.

McCann, I. L., & Pearlman, L. A. (1990). Vicarious traumatization: A framework for understanding the psychological effects of working with victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3(1), 131–149. http://dx.doi. org/10.1007/BF00975140

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. L. (2016). Qualitative research. A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). Jossey- Bass/PB Printing.

Miller, J. L. (2015). Seven Self-Care Strategies. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 21(1), 52–58.

Moroney, R. (2016, November 14). Hawke’s Bay domestic violence figures concerning. New Zealand Herald. id=1&objectid=11745812

Morris Mathews, K., Hiha, A., Abel, S., Chisnell, C., Malcolm, C., McKelvie – Sebileau, P., Austin, K., Hanna, S., & Tipene-Leach, D. (2019). Report on the evaluation of the Nga tahi Project in YEAR 2 (2018-May 2019), (Nga-tahi: Together as one, in unison, at the same time). Research and Innovation Centre, Eastern Institute of Technology.

Neuman, L. W. (2011). Social research methods. Qualitative and quantitative approaches. (7th ed.). Pearson Publishers.

Padgett, D. (2008). Qualitative methods in social work research (2nd ed.). Sage Publications.

Pearlman, L. A., & Saakvitne, K. W. (1995). Trauma and the therapist countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. W. W. Norton & Company.

Pope, C., Ziebland, S., & Mays, N. (2000). Analysing qualitative data. National Centre for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine. https:// doi:10.1136/bmj.320.7227.114

Rothschild, B. (2006). Help for the helper. The psychophysiology of compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization. self-care strategies for managing burnout and stress. W. W. Norton & Company.

Rothschild, B. (2011). Trauma essentials. The go-to guide. Norton and Company.

Social Worker’s Registration Board. (2015). Supervision expectations for registered social workers – Policy statement. expectations-for-registration-2/

Tarshis, S., & Baird, S. (2019). Addressing the indirect trauma of social work students in intimate partner violence (IPV) filed placements: A framework for supervision. Clinical Social Work Journal, 47, 90–102.

Wall, L., Higgins, D., & Hunter, C. (2016). Trauma-informed care in child/family welfare services (CFCA Paper No. 37). Child Family Community Australia Information Exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies. care-child-family-welfare-services

Wilkinson, J. (2016). Developing and leading trauma- informed practice [Leaders’ briefing]. https://www. developing-and-leading-traumainformed-practice- leaders-briefing-2018/

Wills, R., Gabriel, B., & Matthews, K. M. (2019). The Nga-Tahi Project. Policy Quarterly, 15(1). https:// doi:10.26686/pq.v15i1.5300

Wills, R., Gabriel, B., Tipene-Leach, D., & Matthews, K. M. (2020). The Ngatahi Project: Clinically and culturally competent practice with children and families with complex needs.




How to Cite

Smith, S., & Hanna, S. (2021). Does helping hurt the helper? – An investigation into the impacts of vicarious traumatisation on social work practitioners in Hawke’s Bay, Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(3), 48–60.



Original Articles