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Vol 18, No 1 (2021)
Research paper
Published online: 2020-11-16
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Workload, manifestation of empathy and symptoms of secondary traumatic stress among professionals working with people after violence experiences

Nina Jolanta Ogińska-Bulik1
Psychiatria 2021;18(1):8-17.


Introduction: Professionals working with trauma victims are exposed to secondary traumatic stress (STS). Factors determining its occurrence include various aspects of work, especially occupational load, as well as individual properties of helpers,
including empathy. The aim of the study was to establish a relationship between workload, manifestation of empathy and
symptoms of STS in professionals who, as part of their work, help people who have experienced trauma related to violence.

Material and methods: The results of 154 women representing three professional groups (therapists, social
workers and probation officers) aged 26–67 (M = 43.98, SD = 10.83) were analyzed. The study used a survey
developed for the purpose of the study, containing questions about workload indicators and two standard
measurement tools, i.e. a modified Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist and the Empathic Sensitiveness
Scale, measuring three aspects of empathy, i.e. empathic concern, personal distress and perspective taking.

Results: High severity of STS symptoms, meaning a high probability of diagnosis of secondary posttraumatic
stress disorder was recorded in 14.3% of respondents. This risk was higher for social workers (26.7%) than for
probation officers (14.5%) and therapists (8.7%). Positive correlations of STS with workload and all three aspects
of empathy were revealed. Regression analysis showed that the main predictor of STS is personal stress, i.e. a tendency
to experience anxiety and discomfort in response to strong negative experiences (suffering) of other people.

Conclusions: There is a need to cover preventive actions for professionals working with victims of trauma, especially
social workers.

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