Academic journal article Social Work

Current Levels of Perceived Stress among Mental Health Social Workers Who Work with Suicidal Clients

Academic journal article Social Work

Current Levels of Perceived Stress among Mental Health Social Workers Who Work with Suicidal Clients

Article excerpt

Social workers are affected by exposure to their clients' traumatic life experiences and behaviors. Research has demonstrated that secondary traumatic stress (STS)--also referred to as vicarious trauma, compassion stress, or compassion fatigue--is prevalent among mental health professionals who work with traumatized clients (Fahy, 2007; Figley, 2002b; Jacobson, 2006; Jenkins & Baird, 2002; McCann & Pearlman, 1990). Researchers have examined the professional and personal reactions of mental health professionals to traumatic events, such as fatal or nonfatal client suicidal behavior (CSB) (Farberow, 2005; Hendin, Haas, Maltsberger, Szanto, & Rabinowicz, 2004; Jacobson, Ting, Sanders, & Harrington, 2004; Sanders, Jacobson, & Ting, 2005). CSB is defined as either a serious suicide attempt or a suicide completion by a client. CSB have been noted as one of the most stressful experiences in the career of a mental health professional (Chemtob, Bauer, Hamada, Pelowski, & Muraoka, 1989; Deutsch, 1984; Farber, 1983; Vorkoper & Meade, 2005). Posttraumatic stress (PTS) and STS reactions have been reported by mental health social workers who have experienced CSB (Jacobson et al., 2004; Sanders et al., 2005); however, there has been only limited research exploring the long-term perceived stress experienced in the aftermath of CSB. This study focused on mental health social workers' levels of perceived stress after experiencing the trauma of surviving fatal or nonfatal CSB. The research objective was to explore the extent to which social workers experience long-term residual effects of perceived stress and continual thoughts of their most traumatizing incident of CSB.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Reactions to CSB

For the past two decades, social workers have been increasingly on the frontlines of mental health service delivery (Duffy et al., 2002; Mechanic, 1999), working with high-risk clients in hospital and community settings. Prior research indicates that up to 33 percent of mental health social workers have experienced fatal CSB, and over 50 percent have experienced nonfatal CSB (Jacobson et al., 2004; Sanders et al., 2005). In comparison with other mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and counselors, social workers have reported comparable rates of CSB and risk of becoming a "clinician-survivor" (Chemtob et al., 1989; Chemtob, Hamada, Bauer, Torigoe, & Kinney, 1988; Collins, 2003; Pope & Tabachnick, 1993). Farberow (2005) described the clinician-survivor as the professional who not only experiences personal reactions similar to those of family members and loved ones after a familial suicide, but also has additional feelings and reactions as a result of his or her professional caregiving role. In addition to personal grief reactions and PTS symptoms after experiencing CSB, psychiatrists and psychologists reported feelings of guilt, failure, professional self-doubt regarding their clinical competency, and anger directed toward the client (Chemtob et al., 1988, 1989; Ellis & Dickey, 1998; Grad, Zavasnik, & Groleger, 1997; Kleespies, Penk, & Forsyth, 1993; Ruskin, Sakinosfsky, Bagby, Dickens, & Sousa, 2004; Yousaf, Hawthorne, & Sedgwick, 2002). Similar to other mental health professionals, social work clinician-survivors reported personal reactions including sadness, shock, disbelief, denial, depression, irritability, and PTS (intrusive thoughts, avoidance, hyperarousal) (Jacobson et al., 2004; Sanders et al., 2005). Jacobson et al. also identified gender differences in a national sample of mental health social workers' reactions. Men reported more avoidant reactions and behaviors, whereas women reported more intrusive reactions and higher levels of STS.

Social work clinician-survivors, like their mental health colleagues, had professional reactions, which included feelings of incompetence, failure, shame, and self-blame; concerns about legal issues and liability; and anger toward the client and the social service agencies involved. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.