Vicarious traumatisation : the impact on police officials investigating crimes against children

Stevens, Liesl ; South African Police Service (2002-12)

Thesis (MA) -- University of Stellenbosch, 2002.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The purpose of the present study was to investigate the nature and incidence of vicarious traumatisation (VT) amongst members of the South African Police Service Child Protection Unit. The concept of VT purports that as a result of their empathic engagement with the traumatic material of their clients, helpers will experience disruptions in their basic schemas relating to self and others, and may also experience posttraumatic stress symptomatology in the form of intrusive images, thoughts, and avoidance phenomena. Two areas believed to be most susceptible to effects of vicarious trauma were examined, namely five psychological need areas and related cognitive schemas, and the imagery component of the memory system. The latter includes intrusion phenomena, which, in turn, give rise to a wide variety of ways of avoidance. Furthermore, the relationship between VT and a number of potentially related variables, namely the helper's a previous trauma history of abuse and the coping strategies utilised in an attempt to ameliorate the negative effects of vicarious traumatisation, were examined. Participants included 29 members of the South African Police Service Child Protection Unit (CPU) in the Western Cape. The three control groups comprised mental health professionals, outpatient mental health clients, and chronic mental health patients. The Traumatic Stress Institute Belief Scale (Revision L)(TSIBS) was used to measure disruptions in psychological need areas and related cognitive schemas. The Impact of Event Scale (IES) was utilised to measure the intrusion and/or avoidance symptoms associated with posttraumatic stress disorder. The presence of a personal history of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse among CPU members was determined by means of semi-structured questions. The COPE questionnaire was utilised to determine the various coping strategies used by the participants in an attempt to deal with the stressors associated with providing a service to victims/survivors of sexual abuse. The results indicated that the CPU group exhibited significantly higher levels of disruption in their psychological need areas and related cognitive schemas than the mental health professionals, significantly lower levels of disruption than the chronic mental health patients, and significantly higher levels of disruption than the outpatient mental health clients with regard to the following needs/schemas: safety (self and other), other-trust and other-esteem. With regard to intrusion and avoidance symptomatology, it was evident that 75.9% of the CPU members were demonstrating symptom levels corresponding to the high category of clinical concern. Relationships between a disruption of needs/schemas in general, and the incidence of intrusion and avoidance phenomena were insignificant. On the other hand, disruptions of certain specific needs/schemas (i.e., self-esteem and other-intimacy) were significantly associated with the occurrence of intrusion and/or avoidance. No significant differences between participants with and without a personal history of trauma were found. With regard to the association between the functionality of coping strategies and vicarious trauma symptomatology, a significant negative relationship was found between planning (a positive coping strategy) and a general disruption of needs/schemas, and significant positive relationships between denial and behavioural disengagement (negative coping strategies) and a general disruption of needs/schemas. These findings were consistent with previous research that showed that the use of positive coping strategies are associated with decreased levels of disruption in cognitive schemas, and that negative strategies are associated with an increased level of cognitive disruption. Relationships between positive and negative coping strategies, and intrusion and avoidance symptomatology were insignificant. Results from the present study strongly support the notion that as a result of their interaction with sexually abused children, police officials may be negatively impacted by their work. Furthermore, the findings of this study support the usefulness of the concept of vicarious traumatisation in understanding the experience of the helper working with traumatised clients. However, due to the complex nature of the construct of vicarious traumatisation, further research into factors that may prevent, mitigate, or intensify the effects of work with trauma survivors on helpers is crucial.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doel van die huidige studie was om die aard en voorkoms van vikariese (plaasvervangende) traumatisering (VT) onder lede van die Suid-Afrikaanse Polisiediens se Kinderbeskermingseenheid te ondersoek. Die konsep VT behels dat vanweë hul empatiese betrokkenheid by die traumatiese materiaal van hul kliënte, helpers ontwrigtings in hul basiese skemas met betrekking tot self en ander sal ervaar, sowel as posttraumatiese-stres-simptomalogie in die vorm van indringende beelde, gedagtes en vermydingsverskynsels sal beleef. Twee areas wat beskou word die vatbaarste is vir die effek van VT, is ondersoek. Dit is naamlik vyf sielkundige behoefteareas en hul gepaardgaande kognitiewe skemas, en die beelding komponent van die geheuesisteem. Laasgenoemde sluit indringingsverskynsels in wat, op hul beurt, weer aanleiding gee tot 'n wye verskeidenheid van maniere van vermyding. Verder is die verband tussen VT en 'n aantal moontlike verwante veranderlikes, naamlik die helper se vorige trauma geskiedenis van mishandeling en die hanteringstrategië wat aangewend word in 'n poging om die negatiewe impak van VT te versag ook ondersoek. Deelnemers het bestaan uit 29 lede van die Suid-Afrikaanse Polisiediens se Kinderbeskermingseenheid (KBE) in die Wes-Kaap. Die drie kontrolegroepe het bestaan uit geestesgesondheidswerkers, geestesgesondheidverwante buitepasiënte, en kroniese geestesversteurde pasiënte. Die Traumatic Stress Institute Belief Scale (Revision L)(TSIBS) is gebruik om ontwrigting in sielkundige behoefteareas en hul verwante kognitiewe skemas te meet. Die Impact of Event Scale (lES) is gebruik om indringing-en vermydingsimptome wat geassosieer word met posttraumatiesestresversteuring te meet. Die aanwesigheid van 'n persoonlike geskiedenis van fisiese, seksuele en/of emosionele mishandeling by KBE lede, is bepaal met behulp van semigestruktueerde vrae. Die COPE vraelys is gebruik om te bepaal van watter hanteringstrategieë deelnemers gebruik gemaak het in 'n poging om die stressors te hanteer wat met dienslewering aan slagoffers van seksuele mishandeling gepaardgegaan het. Die resultate het aangetoon dat die KBE groep se vlakke van ontwrigting in hul sielkundige behoefteareas en verwante kognitiewe skemas beduidende verskil het van die drie kontrolegroepe, naamlik beduidend hoër vlakke van ontwrigting as geestesgesondheidswerkers, beduidend laer vlakke van ontwrigting as die kroniese geestesversteurde pasiënte, en beduidende hoër vlakke van ontwrigting as geestesgesondheidverwante buitepasiënte met betrekking tot die volgende behoeftes/skemas: veiligheid (self en ander), ander-vertroue en ander-agting. Met betrekking tot indringing- en vermydingsimptomatologie, het die geblyk dat 75.9% van die KBE lede simptoomvlakke gedemonstreer het wat ooreenstem met die hoë kategorie van kliniese kommer. Verbande tussen 'n ontwrigting van behoeftes/skemas in die algemeen, en die voorkoms van indringing- en vermydingsverskynsels was onbeduidend. Daarenteen was ontwrigtings van sekere spesifieke behoeftes/skemas (i.e., selfagting en ander-intimiteit) beduidende geassosieer met die voorkoms van indringing en/of vermyding. Geen beduidende verskil is tussen deelnemers met of sonder 'n persoonlike geskiedenis van trauma gevind nie. Wat betref die assosiasie tussen die funksionaliteit van die hanteringstrategië en VT simptomatologie, is 'n beduidende negatiewe verband gevind tussen beplanning ('n positiewe hanteringstrategie) en 'n algemene ontwrigting van behoeftes/skemas, en beduidende positiewe verbande tussen ontkenning en gedragsonttrekking (negatiewe hanteringstrategieë) en 'n algemene ontwrigting van behoeftes/skemas. Hierdie bevindinge stem ooreen met vorige navorsing wat aangetoon het dat die gebruik van positiewe hanteringstrategieë gepaardgaan met verlaagde vlakke van ontwrigting van kognitiewe skemas en dat negatiewe hanteringstrategieë gepaardgaan met 'n verhoogde vlak van kognitiewe ontwrigting. Verbande tussen positiewe en negatiewe hanteringstrategieë, en indringing- en vermydingsimptome was onbeduidend. Resultate van die huidige studie verleen sterk steun vir die idee dat polisiebeamptes, as gevolg van hul interaksie met seksueel-mishandelde kinders, negatief geaffekteer kan word deur hulle werk. Verder verleen die bevindinge van hierdie studie ook steun vir die waarde van die konsep van vikariese traumatisering om die ervaring van die helper wat met getraumatiseerde kliënte werk, beter te verstaan. Hoe dit ook al sy, weens die komplekse aard van die konsep van vikariese traumatisering is verdere navorsing oor faktore wat die effekte van werk met trauma-oorlewendes mag verhoed, verminder of vererger, van groot belang.

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