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Incidence of Vicarious Trauma in Correctional Health and Forensic Mental Health Staff in New South Wales, Australia

Newman, Claire RN, MN (Hons), DipMHNurs1; Eason, Michelle RN, MN1; Kinghorn, Grant RN, BN, MN2

doi: 10.1097/JFN.0000000000000245
Original Articles

Background: Correctional health and forensic mental health (FMH) staff may experience vicarious trauma (VT) as a result of cumulative and repeated exposure to traumatic material in their professional roles.

Aim: This study aimed to determine the incidence of VT in a sample of correctional health and FMH staff.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey including 135 correctional health and FMH staff participating in a VT management program was conducted. Survey respondents completed the Vicarious Trauma Scale and Impacts of Events Scale-Revised.

Findings: Most respondents had moderate or high VT (n = 78, 57.8%, and n = 40, 29.6%, respectively). Low psychological distress was reported, with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms being experienced either mildly or not at all by most respondents. A significant relationship between total Vicarious Trauma Scale score and total Impacts of Events Scale-Revised score (r = 0.471, p = 0.000) was found, indicating that a higher level of VT was associated with an increased risk of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. A higher level of VT was also associated with increased reports of avoidance, intrusion, and hyperarousal (r = 0.382, p = 0.000; r = 0.489, p = 0.000; and r = 0.440, p = 0.000, respectively).

Conclusion: Correctional health and FMH staff are at risk of developing VT and associated psychological distress.

Implications for Clinical FMH Nursing Practice: Correctional health and FMH organizations have the responsibility to ensure nurses are aware of the effects of VT and to provide opportunities for nurses to participate in VT education and management programs.

Author Affiliations:1Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network

2University of Wollongong.

Funding was received from the Annual Nurse Strategy Fund (NSW Nursing & Midwifery Office) to develop and implement a program to address the management of vicarious trauma.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Correspondence: Claire Newman, RN, MN (Hons), DipMHNurs, Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network, P.O. Box 150, Matraville, NSW 2036, Australia. E-mail:

Received November 6, 2018; Accepted April 15, 2019

Online date: June 27, 2019

© 2019 by the International Association of Forensic Nurses. All rights reserved.
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