Vicarious Traumatisation: Working with Clients of Probation Services

Vicarious Traumatisation: Working with Clients of Probation Services Abstract This study aims to explore whether attachment styles of adult probation officers (POs) are correlated with disruptions in cognitive schemas of trust and safety (vicarious traumatisation—VT) and whether they moderate the relationship between personal trauma history and cognitive schemas. We conducted an anonymous self-report census with adult POs in Israel (N=189). The study findings suggest that POs with secure attachment have lower average disruptions in trust and safety than POs with insecure attachment. The findings also indicate that attachment style moderates the relationship between personal trauma history and disruptions in the safety schema, but not in trust schema. These findings suggest that insecure attachment may increase the risk of developing VT as a result of repeated exposure to trauma in the context of working with clients of probation services. Implications include raising awareness of workers, supervisors and staff management to personal and professional risk factors that may affect job performance. Attachment styles, offenders, adult probation officers, social workers, trauma, vicarious traumatisation Introduction The definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has undergone significant changes in recent years, among them the acknowledgement that a traumatic event may be the result of indirect repeated exposure to details of traumatic events, particularly work-related (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It has been suggested that clinicians are particularly affected by their clients’ descriptions and reactions to trauma, and that this exposure may cause distress (Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). This phenomenon, known as ‘vicarious traumatisation’ (VT) (McCann and Pearlman, 1990), refers to clinicians’ cognitive changes in beliefs and perceptions about self, others and the world that take place through cumulative exposure to clients’ traumatic material. Furthermore, exposure to human-induced traumatic experiences (e.g. sexual abuse, physical violence) has potentially more devastating and lasting effects on individuals than naturally caused trauma (e.g. disease, natural disasters) (Cunningham, 2003). To date, the bulk of research on VT has focused on those who treat the victims of trauma. However, it has also been found that those who treat offenders are exposed to traumatic materials that may cause them to develop VT (Dreier and Wright, 2011). Probation officers (POs) are a unique population; they are indirectly exposed to human-induced traumatic materials on a daily basis. The Adult Probation Service in Israel is a statutory social service that is subordinate to the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, and is part of the law-enforcement services in Israel. POs are all social workers who work to bring about personal and social change processes. They bring to the law-enforcement and legal system a unique worldview and extra-legal considerations, from the field of diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. The Adult Probation Service is mandated to treat adults (eighteen and above) who have been arrested and/or referred to parole/probation with the aim of reducing the risk to society as a result of recidivism. Interventions utilised are derived from the field of social work, such as empowering clients and including them in goal setting. Unlike other social services, probation services also have authoritative functions for compliance with probation requirements and for assessing the risk posed by clients of the service to society. In addition to their basic professional training, POs undergo specific training for the job, which includes skills for assessing clients, such as risk factors versus strengths, writing reports for the legal system and issues related to cultural sensitivity, addiction, violence, etc. The probation service in Israel is both similar to, and different from, probation services around the world, including its legal and ideological basis, the approach to understanding criminal behaviour and the purpose of the service and its tasks (Weiss, 2001). The probation services in the USA and England, for example, also act to protect society from recidivism, place greater emphasis on control and are not social services in essence (Annison et al., 2008; Gregory, 2010; Weiss, 2001). In their work, the POs are exposed to traumatic content, both from the patients’ personal experiences and as a result of the various offences they committed. However, because most studies in the field of VT have focused on clinicians who treat victims of abuse and much less is known about VT in clinicians who treat clients of probation services, this study aims to begin addressing this lacuna by exploring risk factors for VT of POs in Israel. Vicarious traumatisation The term ‘vicarious traumatisation’ is based on the constructivist self-development theory that describes the interplay between potentially traumatic life events, cognitive schemas, and mental and emotional adaptation. The premise of this theory is that individuals construct their realities through the development of cognitive schemas, which facilitate their interpretation and understanding of life experiences. These cognitive schemas include beliefs and assumptions about self, others and the world regarding five psychological needs: safety, trust, esteem, control and intimacy. Trauma may cause disruption in these cognitive schemas, depending on the individual’s primary psychological need. This disruption may cause a strong sense of vulnerability, as well as a growing awareness of human beings’ ability to harm others (safety schema); a decreased sense of trust in one’s own perceptions and judgement, or their ability to trust others (trust schema); diminished self-esteem, or diminishing the value of others (esteem schema); diminished sense of connection and intimacy with self or others (intimacy schema); and/or a sense of helplessness and lack of control over self and others, or a growing need of control (control schema) (McCann and Pearlman, 1990; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). VT may also affect the clinician’s belief system and their perceptions about self, others and the world, as well as disruptions in their sensory and memory system (McCann and Pearlman, 1990). VT has cumulative, pervasive and permanent consequences on clinicians’ personal and professional lives, including their sense of identity, worldview, spirituality, self-capacities, ego resources, psychological needs, beliefs and inter-personal relationships. The main symptoms are social withdrawal or alienation, strong sense of threat or fear, decreased sense of sensitivity to others, cynicism, pessimism, depression, generalised despair and helplessness (Herman, 1997; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). The bulk of research on VT has focused on clinicians who treat victims of trauma. However, several studies conducted with clinicians who treat offenders have found that they are also exposed to traumatic materials that may cause them to develop VT (Dreier and Wright, 2011; Kadambi and Truscott, 2003; Way et al., 2004). In addition to the effects of exposure to traumatic materials, clinicians who work with offenders may encounter social alienation and stigma (Grady and Strom-Gottfried, 2011). Another challenge is that most clients do not seek treatment voluntarily (Benveniste, 2012) and may exhibit denial, remorselessness, arousal, cruelty or blame the victim, all of which may lead clinicians to feelings of anger and rejection towards their clients (Ennis and Horne, 2003; Moulden and Firestone, 2007) or to experience disappointment at their difficulty in co-operating with or benefiting from the therapeutic process (Knight et al., 2016). Furthermore, clinicians may feel a strong sense of responsibility towards society, especially in cases of recidivists (Iliffe and Steed, 2000; Moulden and Firestone, 2007). In turn, this may lead to a role conflict between their commitment to their clients and their commitment to public safety (Benveniste, 2012; Mitchell and Melikian, 1995), which may evoke emotional stress (Gayman and Bradley, 2013). Both personal and professional characteristics can contribute to the vulnerability for developing VT (Pack, 2014; Pearlman and Mac Ian, 1995; Voss Horrell et al., 2011). Some of the risk factors that have been examined include age (Baird and Jenkins, 2003; Way et al., 2007), gender (Iliffe and Steed, 2000; Peled-Avram, 2017; Way et al., 2007), personal trauma history (Bober and Regehr, 2006; Follette et al., 1994; VanDeusen and Way, 2006; Way et al., 2004, 2007), experience working with trauma (Crabtree, 2002; Cunningham, 2003; VanDeusen and Way, 2006), trauma caseload (Baird and Jenkins, 2003; Brady et al., 1999; Schauben and Frazier, 1995) and type of trauma (Cunningham, 2003). Despite efforts to identify the risk factors for developing VT, findings to date have been inconsistent (Peled-Avram, 2017; Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). Attachment styles may have implications for adapting and coping with stress and trauma (Mikulincer, 1998). While this has been extensively researched as it pertains to PTSD (for a review, see Woodhouse et al., 2015), there are almost no studies that explore attachment styles as a risk factor for VT, with the notable exception of Marmaras et al. (2003), who found a significant positive relationship between attachment styles and disrupted cognitive schemas. Attachment styles as risk factors for VT The term ‘attachment’ refers to the relationship between an infant and its primary caretakers; based on these relationships, infants develop an ‘internal working model’ of self and others (Bowlby, 1969, 1977). These models in turn affect adult relationships (Noftle and Shaver, 2006), including romantic ones (Hazan and Shaver, 1987), and the individual’s ability to feel trust and safety in close relationships (Mikulincer, 1998). To better understand the complexity of adult attachment, researchers suggest a two-dimensional approach that examines the presence of anxiety versus avoidance in relationships, based on the individuals’ internal models of self and others (Brennan et al., 1998). A framework of four attachment styles was developed, derived from a combination of dimensions of self versus other, and of dependence (anxiety of abandonment) versus avoidance of intimacy (Bartholomew, 1990; see Table 1). Secure attachment indicates low levels of anxiety and avoidance; secure individuals display positive internal working models of self and others, have high self-esteem and a sense of security in relationships. Preoccupied attachment indicates high levels of anxiety and low levels of avoidance. Preoccupied individuals are overly dependent on others and have an insatiable desire to gain their approval, which is attributed to negative internal working models of self and positive internal working models of others. Dismissing-avoidant attachment indicates low levels of anxiety and high levels of avoidance. Dismissing-avoidant individuals have positive internal working models about self and negative internal working models about others, they deny their attachment needs and passively avoid close relationships, asserting that they are not important. Fearful-avoidant attachment indicates high levels of both anxiety and avoidance. Fearful-avoidant individuals have negative internal working models about self and others. They desire social contact, but are inherently distrustful of others and exhibit high levels of anxiety, leading them to actively avoid close relationships (Bartholomew, 1990; Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991). Table 1 Styles of adult attachment     Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful      Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful  Table 1 Styles of adult attachment     Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful      Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful  Internal working models serve as mental representations through which adulthood experiences are organised and through which individuals interpret others’ behaviours and cope with stressful experiences (Bowlby, 1973). One type of relationship that may be affected by attachment styles is the therapeutic relationship (Marmaras et al., 2003). Clinicians who are POs come into contact with offenders and are constantly exposed to human-induced trauma (Severson and Pettus-Davis, 2013; Sommer, 2008). Research suggests that, when trauma is brought about by another human being, its consequences may be more devastating to the victim as well as to the clinicians who treat these victims, especially in schemas of trust and safety (Cunningham, 2003). It is likely that clinicians who treat those who have committed the offences will exhibit similar trends. Therefore, this study will explore whether attachment styles of adult POs who treat clients of probation services are correlated with disruption in cognitive schemas of trust and safety. It was hypothesised that (i) significant differences will be found between those with a secure attachment style and those with insecure attachment styles on measures of cognitive schemas (trust and safety) and (ii) attachment style will moderate the relationship between personal trauma history and these cognitive schemas. Methods Study population In Israel during the time of the study, there were 258 adult POs employed in four districts: Haifa and north (25.6 per cent), Tel Aviv and Center (37.6 per cent), Jerusalem (17.4 per cent) and Beer-Sheva and south (19.4 per cent). All of them (census sampling) were contacted by mail between November 2013 and March 2014, and asked to complete an anonymous survey. One hundred and eighty-nine of them completed the survey, yielding a response rate of 73.3 per cent. Of those who completed the survey, 78 per cent were women and the average age was thirty-eight (SD=8.8). The average length of professional experience as social workers was eleven years (SD=8.4), of those 9.5 (SD=8.8) spent in the adult probation office; 74.6 per cent of them reported experiencing at least one personal trauma (of those, almost half reported the trauma being human-induced); 62.2 per cent of the sample were POs whose work related mostly to sentence and rehabilitation issues (the rest were either supervisors or POs whose work related mostly to arrest issues) and 17.9 per cent treated sex offenders. Over half were characterised by a secure attachment style. The major socio-demographic and independent variables in the study are presented in Table 2. Table 2 Distribution of socio-demographic and independent variables Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Table 2 Distribution of socio-demographic and independent variables Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Measures Participants completed an anonymous four-part survey: VT was measured using the Trauma and Attachment Belief (TABS) Scale (Pearlman, 2003). The scale comprises ten subscales describing beliefs about trust, safety, esteem, intimacy and control about self and others. This study utilised four of the subscales of trust (self and others) and safety (self and others); each included seven to thirteen items measured on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). For this study, we combined the self and other subscales of trust and safety to create two subscales. For the trust subscale, the alpha coefficient was 0.84 and, for the safety subscale, it was 0.74. Attachment styles were measured using the Experience in Close Relationships (ECR) Scale (Brennan et al., 1998). This is a thirty-six-item questionnaire, measuring anxiety and avoidance. All items are measured on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). For the entire questionnaire, the alpha coefficient was 0.9 (alpha for the anxiety items was 0.87 and, for the avoidance items, 0.89). Personal trauma history was measured using the Trauma History Screen (THS; Carlson et al., 2011). This twenty-two-item screen describes exposure to various potentially traumatic events that may cause acute or prolonged stress as described in the DSM-IV (fourteen items; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and their emotional impact (eight items). Test–retest reliability in previous studies with clinical and no-clinical populations ranged between 0.73 and 0.95 (Carlson et al., 2011). Socio-demographic questions (e.g. gender, age, education, experience). Procedure and ethics Questionnaires were distributed to all POs, either personally by the first author or sent by mail. Participants were provided with an information sheet describing the study, a consent form which was signed and kept separately and a sealed envelope to be used to mail the completed questionnaire back. No identifying information was collected in the questionnaires and only the research team had access to the data. The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the university where the study was conducted, by the Office of Adult Probation Services and by the Research, Planning, and Training Division at the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs and Services. The data were coded and analysed using SPSS 19. Results A univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted in order to explore whether there are significant differences between POs with a secure attachment style and those with insecure attachment styles on measures of trust and safety. A Tukey post-hoc analysis revealed that POs with secure attachment style had significantly fewer disruptions in cognitive schemas of trust than the three other attachment styles (F(3,184)=10.44, p < 0.01) and that POs with secure and with dismissing-avoidant attachment styles had significantly fewer disruptions in cognitive schema of safety than those with both preoccupied and fearful-avoidant attachment styles (F(3,184)=15.69, p < 0.01). Results are summarised in Table 3. Table 3 ANOVA to explore the differences between probation officers Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  * p <0.01. Table 3 ANOVA to explore the differences between probation officers Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  * p <0.01. Results point to fewer disruptions in cognitive schemas of trust and safety among POs with a secure attachment style versus the rest (insecure). In order to explore whether attachment style will moderate the relationship between human-induced personal trauma history and measures of trust and safety, a series of regressions were performed. None of the background variables was found significant in the preliminary analyses and was therefore excluded from the regression. The results are presented in Table 4. Table 4 Results for regression predicting disruptions in cognitive schemas   Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***            Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***          a Non-human-induced trauma—reference category. b Insecure—reference category. * p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001. Table 4 Results for regression predicting disruptions in cognitive schemas   Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***            Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***          a Non-human-induced trauma—reference category. b Insecure—reference category. * p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001. Trust The results of the multivariate Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regressions for trust schema are also presented in Table 4. The first model is significant overall (F(2,185)=16.697, p < 0.001) and explained 15.3 per cent of the variance (R2=0.153). Controlling for attachment style, human-induced personal trauma history significantly predicted disruptions in trust schema (p=0.043) and attachment significantly predicted disruption in trust schema when controlling for human-induced personal trauma history (p < 0.001). When an interaction effect between the two variables was added, the model remained significant (F(3,184)=11.510, p < 0.001) and explained 15.8 per cent of the variance (R2=0.158). In this second model, attachment remained a significant predictor of disruption in trust schema (p=0.005), human-induced personal trauma history was not significant (p=0.715) and the interaction term also did not reach statistical significance (p=0.293), suggesting that attachment does not moderate the relationship between human-induced personal trauma history and disruptions in trust schema. Safety The results of the multivariate OLS regressions are presented in Table 4. The first model is significant overall, F(2,185)=14.896, p < 0.001) and explained 13.9 per cent of the variance (R2=0.139). Controlling for attachment style, human-induced personal trauma history did not predict disruptions in safety schema. Attachment, on the other hand, significantly predicted disruption in safety schema when controlling for human-induced personal trauma history (p < 0.001). When an interaction effect between the two variables was added, the model remained significant (F(3,184)=11.914, p < 0.001) and explained 16.3 per cent of the variance (R2=0.163). In this second model, attachment remained a significant predictor of disruption in safety schema (p=0.038), human-induced personal trauma history approached significance (p=0.084) and the interaction term was statistically significant (p=0.023), suggesting that attachment moderates the relationship between human-induced personal trauma history and disruptions in safety schema. Discussion and application to social work practice Continuous exposure of clinicians to traumatic content of their clients increases their vulnerability to developing disruptions to cognitive schemas and changes in their beliefs about themselves and others—a phenomenon called VT (McCann and Pearlman, 1990). Similarly to clinicians who treat trauma victims, those who treat offenders, such as POs, are also at risk for the development of VT, as a result of indirect exposure to the traumatic content of their clients (Dreier and Wright, 2011). The first hypothesis, which dealt with the differences between adult POs with secure attachment style and those with insecure attachment styles, was partially confirmed concerning the extent of disruption to trust and safety schema. It was found that the average disruption to the level of trust and safety among POs with secure attachment style is lower than for those with insecure attachment styles. These findings are compatible with other studies in the field, which indicate that attachment styles have an impact on the risk of indirect traumatisation (e.g. Marmaras et al., 2003). Researchers found that attachment style can predict coping with stressful situations and can affect the perception and interpretation of traumatic events occurring in an inter-personal context and the development of post-trauma symptoms (Dieperink et al., 2001; Muller et al., 2000; Twaite and Rodriguez-Srednicki, 2004). Insecure attachment may lead to the development of non-adaptive strategies for emotional regulation and make it difficult for adults to cope with traumatic events, which may lead to symptoms of PTSD (Benoit et al., 2010). As mentioned, research findings indicate that attachment style has an effect on the perception and interpretation of traumatic events (Besser et al., 2009). A person with insecure attachment who has negative perceptions about self and/or others, in the wake of a traumatic event, may develop a negative perception about self, such as self-blame for the occurrence of the event, or may develop a negative perception about others, such as general lack of trust in others (Elwood and Williams, 2007). This person also may find it difficult to utilise social support—a contributory factor in coping successfully with trauma—and consequently will be at increased risk of developing negative symptoms (Dieperink et al., 2001; Ozer et al., 2003). The therapeutic relationship, like the early parent–infant relationship, is affected by the attachment style of the client and the clinician (Bowlby, 1977). Clinicians with secure attachment style can be sensitive to the needs of the client, while clinicians with an insecure attachment style may experience more stress and have difficulty in processing issues of counter-transference (Dozier et al., 1994), which may increase their vulnerability to developing VT (Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). This may explain the present study’s findings, indicating that the level of disruption to the cognitive schema of trust and safety among POs with secure attachment is lower than for those with insecure attachment. The fact that no significant differences were found in the degree of disruption to the level of trust and safety between attachment styles is an important avenue to consider in future research. The second hypothesis, which investigated whether attachment style moderates the relationship between the personal trauma history of POs and the degree of disruption to cognitive schemas of trust and safety, was partially supported. We found that attachment style influences the relationship between personal trauma history of human-induced trauma and disruption to the safety schema, but not in respect to a disruption of trust schema. A possible explanation for these findings is the assumed interaction between VT and counter-transference (Rasmussen, 2005). Clinicians, particularly those with personal trauma history, may be more susceptible to developing disruption to cognitive schema following exposure to traumatic content via their patients, even more so when it comes to traumatic events of the same kind they experienced themselves (McCann and Pearlman, 1990). Receiving a reminder of their painful experience as part of the treatment process could subsequently lead to traumatic counter-transference reactions among clinicians and increase their vulnerability to the development of VT (Herman, 1997; Miller, 1990; Neumann and Gamble, 1995; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). POs are exposed mainly to human-induced traumas, which may negatively affect their sense of personal safety and trust. Repeated exposure to human-induced traumatic content, which may include human cruelty and greed, eventually may challenge clinicians’ fundamental beliefs and may cause disruption to their cognitive schemas (Iliffe and Steed, 2000; McCann and Pearlman, 1990; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995; Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). In addition, law-breaking clients often do not acknowledge their responsibility for their harmful actions, deny it and shift the responsibility onto the victim (Ennis and Horne, 2003; Moulden and Firestone, 2007). Accordingly, POs, particularly those with personal trauma history, may experience counter-transference responses of identification with the victim, as well as feelings of anger, fear and helplessness. These reactions increase the risk of developing disruptions to cognitive schema (McCann and Pearlman, 1990), particularly safety schema, due to the nature of the offences. Such responses may be heightened in POs with personal trauma history who also have insecure attachment, in comparison with POs with a similar trauma history but who have secure attachment style. The former may have a negative perception of self or others and have difficulty in regulating emotions in stressful situations, which could increase their vulnerability in their encounters with clients. In addition, due to the insecure attachment, they may refrain from using social support, which may hinder their coping with the traumatic content to which they are exposed in their work. However, clinicians with secure attachment, despite their background of personal trauma, maintain a positive attitude towards self and others, allowing them to use internal and external resources and to cope effectively with the traumatic content of their work, as well as with their counter-transference reactions (Dieperink et al., 2001; Ozer et al., 2003). The work of the Adult Probation Service in Israel is focused on the offence and its ramifications for the victims. This involves high exposure to the traumatic nature of the offences, which could evoke a sense of threat and increase the risk for VT (Peled-Avram, 2017). In addition, the work-load and the intensity of the work frequently expose POs to traumatic content and do not always allow them to process their emotions, raising the risk for VT (Herman, 1997; Trippany et al., 2004). Likewise, some of the meetings with the clients take place in detention centres. POs for the arrest issues (18.9 per cent), who meet with clients pre-conviction, are mostly exposed to more severe offences. At this stage, clients can still claim their innocence and therefore sometime deny their accusations (offences), while also experiencing severe crisis following their arrest. As for POs for sentence and rehabilitation issues (62.2 per cent), they may also meet their post-conviction clients in detention centres, as they stay in arrest until the end of the criminal/legal process, which is a highly stressful situation. Researchers suggested that the emotional process that the clinician experiences with the client may be significant in developing VT. Alongside their exposure to the severe traumatic materials, POs may identify with the stressful experience of the detainees and the insecurity and distrust of their environment, placing them at risk for developing disruptions in the cognitive schema of trust and safety (Voss Horrell et al., 2011). Furthermore, working in closed systems like prisons may cause negative emotions (Shelby et al., 2001), which in turn may increase the risk of VT, especially among POs with personal trauma history and insecure attachment styles. Limitations This study has some limitations. First, to measure disruption to cognitive schema of trust and safety, four subscales were used of the Trauma and Attachment Belief Scale (TABS) (Pearlman, 2003), each dealing with trust and safety aspects of self and others. The scales yielded low reliability and therefore were combined so that each area is shown on a separate scale without distinction between aspects of self and others, which may be of interest. This step, which increased reliability and allowed further analysis, impaired our understanding of the differences in trust and safety as well as the risk factors that may be associated with these concepts, including attachment styles. A second limitation arises from the difficulty in collecting objective information regarding the extent of POs’ exposure to trauma in its various types (Pearlman and Mac Ian, 1995; Voss Horrell et al., 2011). With the exception of sex crimes, which represent a specific expertise in adult probation work, POs encounter all types of crimes. Beyond the traumatic nature of some of the crimes, the clients may share with the clinicians the traumatic experiences they experienced throughout their life. Therefore, it was difficult to objectively assess the extent and nature of the POs’ exposure to traumatic content and the impact of these variables on the risk of disruption to cognitive schemas of trust and safety. Also, this made it difficult to control the confounding variables in the study. A third limitation concerns the nature of the sample. Participants in this study were not asked about their religious/cultural identity because of ethical concerns surrounding confidentiality. This limited our ability to learn about the cultural aspects of VT, attachment and their possible correlation. Furthermore, in this census-based study with a high response rate, most of the participants were females. Since there seems to be no evidence for significant gender differences in attachment patterns (Lavy et al., 2012), it is reasonable to assume that our findings can be generalised to our entire population in Israel. However, due to the uniqueness of probation services in Israel, they may not be generalisable to other settings. Recommendations for further research This study was the first attempt to examine the contribution of attachment styles to the development of disruptions to cognitive schemas of trust and safety (VT) among adult POs in Israel. It is recommended to replicate the study in probation services around the world that have similarities and differences to the service in Israel. Further exploration of the issue can focus on the nature of the trauma, such as childhood trauma compared to trauma in adulthood, and, on this basis, the attachment style of the clinicians may be considered an explanatory factor for the relationship between personal trauma history and VT, namely whether clinicians who experienced trauma in childhood (Muller et al., 2000) are at greater risk of developing VT than clinicians who experienced trauma in adulthood (Elwood and Williams, 2007). In this context, it would be interesting to explore other factors, such as defence mechanisms and coping styles, which may shed light on the dynamics underlying the connection between personal trauma history and attachment styles and the development of VT. In order to explore the contribution of organisational characteristics to the risk of developing VT, it may be beneficial to compare the extent of VT of social workers who work in different settings and are exposed to different working conditions, such as POs, prison service clinicians and clinicians who treat victims of trauma. Finally, it would be appropriate to investigate factors that may contribute to effective coping and reducing the risk of VT, such as supervision and training (Bober and Regehr, 2006; Harrison and Westwood, 2009), which may aid organisations in their efforts to effectively mitigate these risk factors. Practical implications Social workers, including POs, cope daily with social problems, which may cause work-related stress, including VT (Bell et al., 2003). POs, particularly those with histories of personal trauma, may experience counter-transference reactions of identification with the victim, as well as feelings of anger, fear and helplessness, which may increase the risk of developing VT. Researchers who studied the probation service stressed the importance of emotional literacy. This skill enables POs to respond empathically to their clients and create a connection with them that may facilitate the rehabilitation process (Knight and Modi, 2014). It is also important to note that VT may affect the POs’ professional attitudes and decision-making processes. Despite efforts to construct guidelines for making decisions based on logical approaches to conflict resolution, decision making and modes of action are driven by the clinicians’ personal discretion, which is affected by many factors, such as their experience, beliefs and roles (Enosh and Bayer-Topilsy, 2015; Kunda, 1990; Mattison, 2000; Nickerson, 1998). It is therefore likely that cognitive biases that may arise due to disruption to cognitive schema will have a negative impact on the POs’ work. Our findings may provide the administration of the Adult Probation Office and Correctional Services Division at the Ministry of Social Affairs with relevant knowledge when making professional decisions concerning the organisation and its employees, and thus contribute to reducing and preventing the risks of developing VT. Furthermore, raising POs’ awareness of the risks involved in their work may lead them to self-reflect regarding the intra-personal and inter-personal processes they undergo in their professional lives. Although there are many personality-based coping strategies, it is emphasised that the moral responsibility to act, prevent and deal effectively with VT is shared by clinicians, organisations and training institutions (Bell et al., 2003; Pack, 2014; Sommer, 2008). Proper supervision and regular training are effective prevention methods for dealing with VT (Bober and Regehr, 2006; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). POs undergo training courses during their careers, but these courses focus on correctional issues, rather than on exposure to trauma and its effects on the clinician. It is important that such courses refer to the implications of working in the field of trauma, such as VT. VT should also be addressed in the context of individual and group supervision. Supervisors must be aware of counter-transference reactions of supervisees and their role in the development of VT, as well as personal trauma history and insecure attachment style. The development of VT can also be prevented by maintaining a balance in the work-load and by encouraging self-care, such as personal psychotherapy, maintaining a balance between professional and personal life, and different health-promotion and wellness strategies, such as yoga, meditation, relaxation, physical activity, proper nutrition and so forth (Harrison and Westwood, 2009; Hunter and Schofield, 2006; Molnar et al., 2017; Schauben and Frazier, 1995). VT is considered an occupational hazard for those who deliver services to populations exposed to violence and trauma, and is seen as a public health issue threatening workforce stability (Molnar et al., 2017). Social workers engaged in direct practice are highly likely to be vicariously exposed to traumatic events through their work with traumatised populations (Hensel et al., 2015). Despite the apparent risk for the well-being of social workers, as demonstrated by the current study, and although VT and related concepts have been studied for almost three decades, there is a shortage in trauma-informed interventions specific for VT (Bercier and Maynard, 2015) and therefore a lack of standardised policy concerning this inherent occupational hazard. A trauma-informed approach should be implemented as early as graduate school (Butler et al., 2016) and throughout the professional lives of social workers. Organisation leaders and policy makers should support the endeavours of researchers in the area of VT and related concepts, in order to promote a higher professional quality of life for social workers. 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Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

Vicarious Traumatisation: Working with Clients of Probation Services

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
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0045-3102
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Abstract

Abstract This study aims to explore whether attachment styles of adult probation officers (POs) are correlated with disruptions in cognitive schemas of trust and safety (vicarious traumatisation—VT) and whether they moderate the relationship between personal trauma history and cognitive schemas. We conducted an anonymous self-report census with adult POs in Israel (N=189). The study findings suggest that POs with secure attachment have lower average disruptions in trust and safety than POs with insecure attachment. The findings also indicate that attachment style moderates the relationship between personal trauma history and disruptions in the safety schema, but not in trust schema. These findings suggest that insecure attachment may increase the risk of developing VT as a result of repeated exposure to trauma in the context of working with clients of probation services. Implications include raising awareness of workers, supervisors and staff management to personal and professional risk factors that may affect job performance. Attachment styles, offenders, adult probation officers, social workers, trauma, vicarious traumatisation Introduction The definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has undergone significant changes in recent years, among them the acknowledgement that a traumatic event may be the result of indirect repeated exposure to details of traumatic events, particularly work-related (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It has been suggested that clinicians are particularly affected by their clients’ descriptions and reactions to trauma, and that this exposure may cause distress (Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). This phenomenon, known as ‘vicarious traumatisation’ (VT) (McCann and Pearlman, 1990), refers to clinicians’ cognitive changes in beliefs and perceptions about self, others and the world that take place through cumulative exposure to clients’ traumatic material. Furthermore, exposure to human-induced traumatic experiences (e.g. sexual abuse, physical violence) has potentially more devastating and lasting effects on individuals than naturally caused trauma (e.g. disease, natural disasters) (Cunningham, 2003). To date, the bulk of research on VT has focused on those who treat the victims of trauma. However, it has also been found that those who treat offenders are exposed to traumatic materials that may cause them to develop VT (Dreier and Wright, 2011). Probation officers (POs) are a unique population; they are indirectly exposed to human-induced traumatic materials on a daily basis. The Adult Probation Service in Israel is a statutory social service that is subordinate to the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, and is part of the law-enforcement services in Israel. POs are all social workers who work to bring about personal and social change processes. They bring to the law-enforcement and legal system a unique worldview and extra-legal considerations, from the field of diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. The Adult Probation Service is mandated to treat adults (eighteen and above) who have been arrested and/or referred to parole/probation with the aim of reducing the risk to society as a result of recidivism. Interventions utilised are derived from the field of social work, such as empowering clients and including them in goal setting. Unlike other social services, probation services also have authoritative functions for compliance with probation requirements and for assessing the risk posed by clients of the service to society. In addition to their basic professional training, POs undergo specific training for the job, which includes skills for assessing clients, such as risk factors versus strengths, writing reports for the legal system and issues related to cultural sensitivity, addiction, violence, etc. The probation service in Israel is both similar to, and different from, probation services around the world, including its legal and ideological basis, the approach to understanding criminal behaviour and the purpose of the service and its tasks (Weiss, 2001). The probation services in the USA and England, for example, also act to protect society from recidivism, place greater emphasis on control and are not social services in essence (Annison et al., 2008; Gregory, 2010; Weiss, 2001). In their work, the POs are exposed to traumatic content, both from the patients’ personal experiences and as a result of the various offences they committed. However, because most studies in the field of VT have focused on clinicians who treat victims of abuse and much less is known about VT in clinicians who treat clients of probation services, this study aims to begin addressing this lacuna by exploring risk factors for VT of POs in Israel. Vicarious traumatisation The term ‘vicarious traumatisation’ is based on the constructivist self-development theory that describes the interplay between potentially traumatic life events, cognitive schemas, and mental and emotional adaptation. The premise of this theory is that individuals construct their realities through the development of cognitive schemas, which facilitate their interpretation and understanding of life experiences. These cognitive schemas include beliefs and assumptions about self, others and the world regarding five psychological needs: safety, trust, esteem, control and intimacy. Trauma may cause disruption in these cognitive schemas, depending on the individual’s primary psychological need. This disruption may cause a strong sense of vulnerability, as well as a growing awareness of human beings’ ability to harm others (safety schema); a decreased sense of trust in one’s own perceptions and judgement, or their ability to trust others (trust schema); diminished self-esteem, or diminishing the value of others (esteem schema); diminished sense of connection and intimacy with self or others (intimacy schema); and/or a sense of helplessness and lack of control over self and others, or a growing need of control (control schema) (McCann and Pearlman, 1990; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). VT may also affect the clinician’s belief system and their perceptions about self, others and the world, as well as disruptions in their sensory and memory system (McCann and Pearlman, 1990). VT has cumulative, pervasive and permanent consequences on clinicians’ personal and professional lives, including their sense of identity, worldview, spirituality, self-capacities, ego resources, psychological needs, beliefs and inter-personal relationships. The main symptoms are social withdrawal or alienation, strong sense of threat or fear, decreased sense of sensitivity to others, cynicism, pessimism, depression, generalised despair and helplessness (Herman, 1997; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). The bulk of research on VT has focused on clinicians who treat victims of trauma. However, several studies conducted with clinicians who treat offenders have found that they are also exposed to traumatic materials that may cause them to develop VT (Dreier and Wright, 2011; Kadambi and Truscott, 2003; Way et al., 2004). In addition to the effects of exposure to traumatic materials, clinicians who work with offenders may encounter social alienation and stigma (Grady and Strom-Gottfried, 2011). Another challenge is that most clients do not seek treatment voluntarily (Benveniste, 2012) and may exhibit denial, remorselessness, arousal, cruelty or blame the victim, all of which may lead clinicians to feelings of anger and rejection towards their clients (Ennis and Horne, 2003; Moulden and Firestone, 2007) or to experience disappointment at their difficulty in co-operating with or benefiting from the therapeutic process (Knight et al., 2016). Furthermore, clinicians may feel a strong sense of responsibility towards society, especially in cases of recidivists (Iliffe and Steed, 2000; Moulden and Firestone, 2007). In turn, this may lead to a role conflict between their commitment to their clients and their commitment to public safety (Benveniste, 2012; Mitchell and Melikian, 1995), which may evoke emotional stress (Gayman and Bradley, 2013). Both personal and professional characteristics can contribute to the vulnerability for developing VT (Pack, 2014; Pearlman and Mac Ian, 1995; Voss Horrell et al., 2011). Some of the risk factors that have been examined include age (Baird and Jenkins, 2003; Way et al., 2007), gender (Iliffe and Steed, 2000; Peled-Avram, 2017; Way et al., 2007), personal trauma history (Bober and Regehr, 2006; Follette et al., 1994; VanDeusen and Way, 2006; Way et al., 2004, 2007), experience working with trauma (Crabtree, 2002; Cunningham, 2003; VanDeusen and Way, 2006), trauma caseload (Baird and Jenkins, 2003; Brady et al., 1999; Schauben and Frazier, 1995) and type of trauma (Cunningham, 2003). Despite efforts to identify the risk factors for developing VT, findings to date have been inconsistent (Peled-Avram, 2017; Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). Attachment styles may have implications for adapting and coping with stress and trauma (Mikulincer, 1998). While this has been extensively researched as it pertains to PTSD (for a review, see Woodhouse et al., 2015), there are almost no studies that explore attachment styles as a risk factor for VT, with the notable exception of Marmaras et al. (2003), who found a significant positive relationship between attachment styles and disrupted cognitive schemas. Attachment styles as risk factors for VT The term ‘attachment’ refers to the relationship between an infant and its primary caretakers; based on these relationships, infants develop an ‘internal working model’ of self and others (Bowlby, 1969, 1977). These models in turn affect adult relationships (Noftle and Shaver, 2006), including romantic ones (Hazan and Shaver, 1987), and the individual’s ability to feel trust and safety in close relationships (Mikulincer, 1998). To better understand the complexity of adult attachment, researchers suggest a two-dimensional approach that examines the presence of anxiety versus avoidance in relationships, based on the individuals’ internal models of self and others (Brennan et al., 1998). A framework of four attachment styles was developed, derived from a combination of dimensions of self versus other, and of dependence (anxiety of abandonment) versus avoidance of intimacy (Bartholomew, 1990; see Table 1). Secure attachment indicates low levels of anxiety and avoidance; secure individuals display positive internal working models of self and others, have high self-esteem and a sense of security in relationships. Preoccupied attachment indicates high levels of anxiety and low levels of avoidance. Preoccupied individuals are overly dependent on others and have an insatiable desire to gain their approval, which is attributed to negative internal working models of self and positive internal working models of others. Dismissing-avoidant attachment indicates low levels of anxiety and high levels of avoidance. Dismissing-avoidant individuals have positive internal working models about self and negative internal working models about others, they deny their attachment needs and passively avoid close relationships, asserting that they are not important. Fearful-avoidant attachment indicates high levels of both anxiety and avoidance. Fearful-avoidant individuals have negative internal working models about self and others. They desire social contact, but are inherently distrustful of others and exhibit high levels of anxiety, leading them to actively avoid close relationships (Bartholomew, 1990; Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991). Table 1 Styles of adult attachment     Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful      Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful  Table 1 Styles of adult attachment     Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful      Model of self (dependence)       Low/Positive  High/Negative  Model of others (avoidance)  Low/Positive  Secure  Preoccupied  High/ Negative  Dismissing  Fearful  Internal working models serve as mental representations through which adulthood experiences are organised and through which individuals interpret others’ behaviours and cope with stressful experiences (Bowlby, 1973). One type of relationship that may be affected by attachment styles is the therapeutic relationship (Marmaras et al., 2003). Clinicians who are POs come into contact with offenders and are constantly exposed to human-induced trauma (Severson and Pettus-Davis, 2013; Sommer, 2008). Research suggests that, when trauma is brought about by another human being, its consequences may be more devastating to the victim as well as to the clinicians who treat these victims, especially in schemas of trust and safety (Cunningham, 2003). It is likely that clinicians who treat those who have committed the offences will exhibit similar trends. Therefore, this study will explore whether attachment styles of adult POs who treat clients of probation services are correlated with disruption in cognitive schemas of trust and safety. It was hypothesised that (i) significant differences will be found between those with a secure attachment style and those with insecure attachment styles on measures of cognitive schemas (trust and safety) and (ii) attachment style will moderate the relationship between personal trauma history and these cognitive schemas. Methods Study population In Israel during the time of the study, there were 258 adult POs employed in four districts: Haifa and north (25.6 per cent), Tel Aviv and Center (37.6 per cent), Jerusalem (17.4 per cent) and Beer-Sheva and south (19.4 per cent). All of them (census sampling) were contacted by mail between November 2013 and March 2014, and asked to complete an anonymous survey. One hundred and eighty-nine of them completed the survey, yielding a response rate of 73.3 per cent. Of those who completed the survey, 78 per cent were women and the average age was thirty-eight (SD=8.8). The average length of professional experience as social workers was eleven years (SD=8.4), of those 9.5 (SD=8.8) spent in the adult probation office; 74.6 per cent of them reported experiencing at least one personal trauma (of those, almost half reported the trauma being human-induced); 62.2 per cent of the sample were POs whose work related mostly to sentence and rehabilitation issues (the rest were either supervisors or POs whose work related mostly to arrest issues) and 17.9 per cent treated sex offenders. Over half were characterised by a secure attachment style. The major socio-demographic and independent variables in the study are presented in Table 2. Table 2 Distribution of socio-demographic and independent variables Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Table 2 Distribution of socio-demographic and independent variables Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Variable  Proportions (%)  Frequency (n)  Gender   Women  78  145   Men  22  41  Status   Single  16.3  30   Married  76.1  140   Divorced  6  11   Common-law partner  1.6  3  Have children   Yes  76.8  142   No  23.2  43  Education   BA  56.8  105   MA  43.2  80  Personal trauma history   Yes  74.6  141   No  25.4  48  Personal human-induced trauma history   Yes  44.4  84   No  55.6  105  Attachment styles   Secure  51.1  96   Insecure  48.9  92    Preoccupied  9  17    Dismissing-avoidant  23.9  45    Fearful-avoidant  16  30  Role in adult probation office   PO (for sentence and rehabilitation issues)  62.2  115   PO (for arrest issues)  18.9  35   Supervisor  18.9  35  Working with sex offenders   Yes  17.9  32   No  81.6  146  Measures Participants completed an anonymous four-part survey: VT was measured using the Trauma and Attachment Belief (TABS) Scale (Pearlman, 2003). The scale comprises ten subscales describing beliefs about trust, safety, esteem, intimacy and control about self and others. This study utilised four of the subscales of trust (self and others) and safety (self and others); each included seven to thirteen items measured on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). For this study, we combined the self and other subscales of trust and safety to create two subscales. For the trust subscale, the alpha coefficient was 0.84 and, for the safety subscale, it was 0.74. Attachment styles were measured using the Experience in Close Relationships (ECR) Scale (Brennan et al., 1998). This is a thirty-six-item questionnaire, measuring anxiety and avoidance. All items are measured on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). For the entire questionnaire, the alpha coefficient was 0.9 (alpha for the anxiety items was 0.87 and, for the avoidance items, 0.89). Personal trauma history was measured using the Trauma History Screen (THS; Carlson et al., 2011). This twenty-two-item screen describes exposure to various potentially traumatic events that may cause acute or prolonged stress as described in the DSM-IV (fourteen items; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and their emotional impact (eight items). Test–retest reliability in previous studies with clinical and no-clinical populations ranged between 0.73 and 0.95 (Carlson et al., 2011). Socio-demographic questions (e.g. gender, age, education, experience). Procedure and ethics Questionnaires were distributed to all POs, either personally by the first author or sent by mail. Participants were provided with an information sheet describing the study, a consent form which was signed and kept separately and a sealed envelope to be used to mail the completed questionnaire back. No identifying information was collected in the questionnaires and only the research team had access to the data. The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the university where the study was conducted, by the Office of Adult Probation Services and by the Research, Planning, and Training Division at the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs and Services. The data were coded and analysed using SPSS 19. Results A univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted in order to explore whether there are significant differences between POs with a secure attachment style and those with insecure attachment styles on measures of trust and safety. A Tukey post-hoc analysis revealed that POs with secure attachment style had significantly fewer disruptions in cognitive schemas of trust than the three other attachment styles (F(3,184)=10.44, p < 0.01) and that POs with secure and with dismissing-avoidant attachment styles had significantly fewer disruptions in cognitive schema of safety than those with both preoccupied and fearful-avoidant attachment styles (F(3,184)=15.69, p < 0.01). Results are summarised in Table 3. Table 3 ANOVA to explore the differences between probation officers Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  * p <0.01. Table 3 ANOVA to explore the differences between probation officers Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  Attachment style/ cognitive schemas  Secure (N =96)  Preoccupied (N =17)  Dismissing- avoidant (N=45)  Fearful-avoidant (N =30)  df  F  Trust  1.87 (0.42)  2.22 (0.40)  2.17 (0.51)  2.33 (0.54)  3,184  10.44*  Safety  2.00 (0.36)  2.57 (0.34)  2.15 (0.45)  2.40 (0.35)  3,184  15.69*  * p <0.01. Results point to fewer disruptions in cognitive schemas of trust and safety among POs with a secure attachment style versus the rest (insecure). In order to explore whether attachment style will moderate the relationship between human-induced personal trauma history and measures of trust and safety, a series of regressions were performed. None of the background variables was found significant in the preliminary analyses and was therefore excluded from the regression. The results are presented in Table 4. Table 4 Results for regression predicting disruptions in cognitive schemas   Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***            Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***          a Non-human-induced trauma—reference category. b Insecure—reference category. * p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001. Table 4 Results for regression predicting disruptions in cognitive schemas   Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***            Variables  b  S.E.  B  p-value  Trust  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.141  0.069  0.142  0.043  Attachment styleb  0.328  0.069  0.331  0.000  R2  0.153          F  16.697***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.081  0.222  –0.082  0.715    Attachment styleb  0.263  0.092  0.266  0.005**    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.147  0.139  0.258  0.293  R2  0.158          F  11.51***          Safety  Personal human-induced traumaa  0.084  0.060  0.099  0.163  Attachment styleb  0.285  0.060  0.336  0.000  R2  0.139          F  14.896***            Personal human-induced traumaa  –0.33  0.19  –0.386  0.084    Attachment styleb  0.165  0.079  0.195  0.038*    Interaction personal human-induced trauma X attachment style  0.272  0.119  0.559  0.023*  R2  0.163          F  11.914***          a Non-human-induced trauma—reference category. b Insecure—reference category. * p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001. Trust The results of the multivariate Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regressions for trust schema are also presented in Table 4. The first model is significant overall (F(2,185)=16.697, p < 0.001) and explained 15.3 per cent of the variance (R2=0.153). Controlling for attachment style, human-induced personal trauma history significantly predicted disruptions in trust schema (p=0.043) and attachment significantly predicted disruption in trust schema when controlling for human-induced personal trauma history (p < 0.001). When an interaction effect between the two variables was added, the model remained significant (F(3,184)=11.510, p < 0.001) and explained 15.8 per cent of the variance (R2=0.158). In this second model, attachment remained a significant predictor of disruption in trust schema (p=0.005), human-induced personal trauma history was not significant (p=0.715) and the interaction term also did not reach statistical significance (p=0.293), suggesting that attachment does not moderate the relationship between human-induced personal trauma history and disruptions in trust schema. Safety The results of the multivariate OLS regressions are presented in Table 4. The first model is significant overall, F(2,185)=14.896, p < 0.001) and explained 13.9 per cent of the variance (R2=0.139). Controlling for attachment style, human-induced personal trauma history did not predict disruptions in safety schema. Attachment, on the other hand, significantly predicted disruption in safety schema when controlling for human-induced personal trauma history (p < 0.001). When an interaction effect between the two variables was added, the model remained significant (F(3,184)=11.914, p < 0.001) and explained 16.3 per cent of the variance (R2=0.163). In this second model, attachment remained a significant predictor of disruption in safety schema (p=0.038), human-induced personal trauma history approached significance (p=0.084) and the interaction term was statistically significant (p=0.023), suggesting that attachment moderates the relationship between human-induced personal trauma history and disruptions in safety schema. Discussion and application to social work practice Continuous exposure of clinicians to traumatic content of their clients increases their vulnerability to developing disruptions to cognitive schemas and changes in their beliefs about themselves and others—a phenomenon called VT (McCann and Pearlman, 1990). Similarly to clinicians who treat trauma victims, those who treat offenders, such as POs, are also at risk for the development of VT, as a result of indirect exposure to the traumatic content of their clients (Dreier and Wright, 2011). The first hypothesis, which dealt with the differences between adult POs with secure attachment style and those with insecure attachment styles, was partially confirmed concerning the extent of disruption to trust and safety schema. It was found that the average disruption to the level of trust and safety among POs with secure attachment style is lower than for those with insecure attachment styles. These findings are compatible with other studies in the field, which indicate that attachment styles have an impact on the risk of indirect traumatisation (e.g. Marmaras et al., 2003). Researchers found that attachment style can predict coping with stressful situations and can affect the perception and interpretation of traumatic events occurring in an inter-personal context and the development of post-trauma symptoms (Dieperink et al., 2001; Muller et al., 2000; Twaite and Rodriguez-Srednicki, 2004). Insecure attachment may lead to the development of non-adaptive strategies for emotional regulation and make it difficult for adults to cope with traumatic events, which may lead to symptoms of PTSD (Benoit et al., 2010). As mentioned, research findings indicate that attachment style has an effect on the perception and interpretation of traumatic events (Besser et al., 2009). A person with insecure attachment who has negative perceptions about self and/or others, in the wake of a traumatic event, may develop a negative perception about self, such as self-blame for the occurrence of the event, or may develop a negative perception about others, such as general lack of trust in others (Elwood and Williams, 2007). This person also may find it difficult to utilise social support—a contributory factor in coping successfully with trauma—and consequently will be at increased risk of developing negative symptoms (Dieperink et al., 2001; Ozer et al., 2003). The therapeutic relationship, like the early parent–infant relationship, is affected by the attachment style of the client and the clinician (Bowlby, 1977). Clinicians with secure attachment style can be sensitive to the needs of the client, while clinicians with an insecure attachment style may experience more stress and have difficulty in processing issues of counter-transference (Dozier et al., 1994), which may increase their vulnerability to developing VT (Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). This may explain the present study’s findings, indicating that the level of disruption to the cognitive schema of trust and safety among POs with secure attachment is lower than for those with insecure attachment. The fact that no significant differences were found in the degree of disruption to the level of trust and safety between attachment styles is an important avenue to consider in future research. The second hypothesis, which investigated whether attachment style moderates the relationship between the personal trauma history of POs and the degree of disruption to cognitive schemas of trust and safety, was partially supported. We found that attachment style influences the relationship between personal trauma history of human-induced trauma and disruption to the safety schema, but not in respect to a disruption of trust schema. A possible explanation for these findings is the assumed interaction between VT and counter-transference (Rasmussen, 2005). Clinicians, particularly those with personal trauma history, may be more susceptible to developing disruption to cognitive schema following exposure to traumatic content via their patients, even more so when it comes to traumatic events of the same kind they experienced themselves (McCann and Pearlman, 1990). Receiving a reminder of their painful experience as part of the treatment process could subsequently lead to traumatic counter-transference reactions among clinicians and increase their vulnerability to the development of VT (Herman, 1997; Miller, 1990; Neumann and Gamble, 1995; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). POs are exposed mainly to human-induced traumas, which may negatively affect their sense of personal safety and trust. Repeated exposure to human-induced traumatic content, which may include human cruelty and greed, eventually may challenge clinicians’ fundamental beliefs and may cause disruption to their cognitive schemas (Iliffe and Steed, 2000; McCann and Pearlman, 1990; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995; Sabin-Farrell and Turpin, 2003). In addition, law-breaking clients often do not acknowledge their responsibility for their harmful actions, deny it and shift the responsibility onto the victim (Ennis and Horne, 2003; Moulden and Firestone, 2007). Accordingly, POs, particularly those with personal trauma history, may experience counter-transference responses of identification with the victim, as well as feelings of anger, fear and helplessness. These reactions increase the risk of developing disruptions to cognitive schema (McCann and Pearlman, 1990), particularly safety schema, due to the nature of the offences. Such responses may be heightened in POs with personal trauma history who also have insecure attachment, in comparison with POs with a similar trauma history but who have secure attachment style. The former may have a negative perception of self or others and have difficulty in regulating emotions in stressful situations, which could increase their vulnerability in their encounters with clients. In addition, due to the insecure attachment, they may refrain from using social support, which may hinder their coping with the traumatic content to which they are exposed in their work. However, clinicians with secure attachment, despite their background of personal trauma, maintain a positive attitude towards self and others, allowing them to use internal and external resources and to cope effectively with the traumatic content of their work, as well as with their counter-transference reactions (Dieperink et al., 2001; Ozer et al., 2003). The work of the Adult Probation Service in Israel is focused on the offence and its ramifications for the victims. This involves high exposure to the traumatic nature of the offences, which could evoke a sense of threat and increase the risk for VT (Peled-Avram, 2017). In addition, the work-load and the intensity of the work frequently expose POs to traumatic content and do not always allow them to process their emotions, raising the risk for VT (Herman, 1997; Trippany et al., 2004). Likewise, some of the meetings with the clients take place in detention centres. POs for the arrest issues (18.9 per cent), who meet with clients pre-conviction, are mostly exposed to more severe offences. At this stage, clients can still claim their innocence and therefore sometime deny their accusations (offences), while also experiencing severe crisis following their arrest. As for POs for sentence and rehabilitation issues (62.2 per cent), they may also meet their post-conviction clients in detention centres, as they stay in arrest until the end of the criminal/legal process, which is a highly stressful situation. Researchers suggested that the emotional process that the clinician experiences with the client may be significant in developing VT. Alongside their exposure to the severe traumatic materials, POs may identify with the stressful experience of the detainees and the insecurity and distrust of their environment, placing them at risk for developing disruptions in the cognitive schema of trust and safety (Voss Horrell et al., 2011). Furthermore, working in closed systems like prisons may cause negative emotions (Shelby et al., 2001), which in turn may increase the risk of VT, especially among POs with personal trauma history and insecure attachment styles. Limitations This study has some limitations. First, to measure disruption to cognitive schema of trust and safety, four subscales were used of the Trauma and Attachment Belief Scale (TABS) (Pearlman, 2003), each dealing with trust and safety aspects of self and others. The scales yielded low reliability and therefore were combined so that each area is shown on a separate scale without distinction between aspects of self and others, which may be of interest. This step, which increased reliability and allowed further analysis, impaired our understanding of the differences in trust and safety as well as the risk factors that may be associated with these concepts, including attachment styles. A second limitation arises from the difficulty in collecting objective information regarding the extent of POs’ exposure to trauma in its various types (Pearlman and Mac Ian, 1995; Voss Horrell et al., 2011). With the exception of sex crimes, which represent a specific expertise in adult probation work, POs encounter all types of crimes. Beyond the traumatic nature of some of the crimes, the clients may share with the clinicians the traumatic experiences they experienced throughout their life. Therefore, it was difficult to objectively assess the extent and nature of the POs’ exposure to traumatic content and the impact of these variables on the risk of disruption to cognitive schemas of trust and safety. Also, this made it difficult to control the confounding variables in the study. A third limitation concerns the nature of the sample. Participants in this study were not asked about their religious/cultural identity because of ethical concerns surrounding confidentiality. This limited our ability to learn about the cultural aspects of VT, attachment and their possible correlation. Furthermore, in this census-based study with a high response rate, most of the participants were females. Since there seems to be no evidence for significant gender differences in attachment patterns (Lavy et al., 2012), it is reasonable to assume that our findings can be generalised to our entire population in Israel. However, due to the uniqueness of probation services in Israel, they may not be generalisable to other settings. Recommendations for further research This study was the first attempt to examine the contribution of attachment styles to the development of disruptions to cognitive schemas of trust and safety (VT) among adult POs in Israel. It is recommended to replicate the study in probation services around the world that have similarities and differences to the service in Israel. Further exploration of the issue can focus on the nature of the trauma, such as childhood trauma compared to trauma in adulthood, and, on this basis, the attachment style of the clinicians may be considered an explanatory factor for the relationship between personal trauma history and VT, namely whether clinicians who experienced trauma in childhood (Muller et al., 2000) are at greater risk of developing VT than clinicians who experienced trauma in adulthood (Elwood and Williams, 2007). In this context, it would be interesting to explore other factors, such as defence mechanisms and coping styles, which may shed light on the dynamics underlying the connection between personal trauma history and attachment styles and the development of VT. In order to explore the contribution of organisational characteristics to the risk of developing VT, it may be beneficial to compare the extent of VT of social workers who work in different settings and are exposed to different working conditions, such as POs, prison service clinicians and clinicians who treat victims of trauma. Finally, it would be appropriate to investigate factors that may contribute to effective coping and reducing the risk of VT, such as supervision and training (Bober and Regehr, 2006; Harrison and Westwood, 2009), which may aid organisations in their efforts to effectively mitigate these risk factors. Practical implications Social workers, including POs, cope daily with social problems, which may cause work-related stress, including VT (Bell et al., 2003). POs, particularly those with histories of personal trauma, may experience counter-transference reactions of identification with the victim, as well as feelings of anger, fear and helplessness, which may increase the risk of developing VT. Researchers who studied the probation service stressed the importance of emotional literacy. This skill enables POs to respond empathically to their clients and create a connection with them that may facilitate the rehabilitation process (Knight and Modi, 2014). It is also important to note that VT may affect the POs’ professional attitudes and decision-making processes. Despite efforts to construct guidelines for making decisions based on logical approaches to conflict resolution, decision making and modes of action are driven by the clinicians’ personal discretion, which is affected by many factors, such as their experience, beliefs and roles (Enosh and Bayer-Topilsy, 2015; Kunda, 1990; Mattison, 2000; Nickerson, 1998). It is therefore likely that cognitive biases that may arise due to disruption to cognitive schema will have a negative impact on the POs’ work. Our findings may provide the administration of the Adult Probation Office and Correctional Services Division at the Ministry of Social Affairs with relevant knowledge when making professional decisions concerning the organisation and its employees, and thus contribute to reducing and preventing the risks of developing VT. Furthermore, raising POs’ awareness of the risks involved in their work may lead them to self-reflect regarding the intra-personal and inter-personal processes they undergo in their professional lives. Although there are many personality-based coping strategies, it is emphasised that the moral responsibility to act, prevent and deal effectively with VT is shared by clinicians, organisations and training institutions (Bell et al., 2003; Pack, 2014; Sommer, 2008). Proper supervision and regular training are effective prevention methods for dealing with VT (Bober and Regehr, 2006; Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995). POs undergo training courses during their careers, but these courses focus on correctional issues, rather than on exposure to trauma and its effects on the clinician. It is important that such courses refer to the implications of working in the field of trauma, such as VT. VT should also be addressed in the context of individual and group supervision. Supervisors must be aware of counter-transference reactions of supervisees and their role in the development of VT, as well as personal trauma history and insecure attachment style. The development of VT can also be prevented by maintaining a balance in the work-load and by encouraging self-care, such as personal psychotherapy, maintaining a balance between professional and personal life, and different health-promotion and wellness strategies, such as yoga, meditation, relaxation, physical activity, proper nutrition and so forth (Harrison and Westwood, 2009; Hunter and Schofield, 2006; Molnar et al., 2017; Schauben and Frazier, 1995). VT is considered an occupational hazard for those who deliver services to populations exposed to violence and trauma, and is seen as a public health issue threatening workforce stability (Molnar et al., 2017). Social workers engaged in direct practice are highly likely to be vicariously exposed to traumatic events through their work with traumatised populations (Hensel et al., 2015). Despite the apparent risk for the well-being of social workers, as demonstrated by the current study, and although VT and related concepts have been studied for almost three decades, there is a shortage in trauma-informed interventions specific for VT (Bercier and Maynard, 2015) and therefore a lack of standardised policy concerning this inherent occupational hazard. A trauma-informed approach should be implemented as early as graduate school (Butler et al., 2016) and throughout the professional lives of social workers. Organisation leaders and policy makers should support the endeavours of researchers in the area of VT and related concepts, in order to promote a higher professional quality of life for social workers. 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Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

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Published: Feb 5, 2018

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