Vicarious traumatization in therapists who work with juvenile sex offenders

Donna Ann Crabtree, Pace University


Working with juvenile sex offenders carries responsibilities not only to the client and the referring agency(ies) (i.e., DYFS, courts, etc.), but to the community at large and potential victims. Thus, it is vitally important that psychotherapists be well-prepared for this type of work, including being able to anticipate, prevent, identify, and treat traumatic responses in the therapists themselves. Traumatic responses are inevitable in any therapist who does trauma work, and can interfere with the therapist's effective functioning both personally and professionally. Theoretical and empirical literature show that therapists who work with victims of trauma are susceptible to various degrees of vicarious trauma. Therapists who are continually exposed to traumatic material are particularly susceptible to profound changes in the way they experience self, others, and the world. This inevitably affects all aspects of their lives as well as all of their relationships. However, as of yet, relatively little research has attempted to study vicarious traumatization in therapists who work with the perpetrators of sexual abuse. This study explored the relations among aspects of sex offender treatment (ie. experience level, number of offenders in caseload, work-setting), aspects of the therapist (gender, personal history of trauma), and the therapist's current psychological functioning, as a means of measuring the concept of vicarious traumatization in therapists who work with juvenile sex offenders. The sample consisted of 158 self-identified sex offender therapists from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Participants responded to a mail survey in which they completed one demographic questionnaire and two self-report instruments: The Traumatic Stress Institute Belief Scale (TSIBS) and the Impact of Event Scale (IES). Results indicated that males had significantly greater disruption in cognitive schemas than females. Secondly, therapists with a personal trauma history had greater disruption in cognitive schemas than those without a personal trauma history. Thirdly, there was a significant interaction between trauma and gender on a subscale measuring the need to feel that others are protected from harm. Lastly, results indicated that work setting does not contribute to vicarious trauma regardless of personal trauma history. Correlational analyses revealed that therapists without a personal history of trauma and more experience had greater disruptions in areas of self-intimacy. In addition, therapists with a personal history of trauma and more experience reported a significantly greater number of intrusive symptoms. Outcomes of this study are discussed in terms of increasing our understanding of factors influencing therapist responses to sex offender treatment. In so doing, it is hoped that we can enhance therapist effectiveness in working with juvenile sex offenders, thereby benefiting both the offender and the community at large.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Crabtree, Donna Ann, "Vicarious traumatization in therapists who work with juvenile sex offenders" (2002). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3046101.



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