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The Vicarious Traumatization of Researchers: A Neglected Area of RCR Research Mark S. Davis The Ohio State University Kelly L. Wester University of North Carolina at Greensboro Presentation to the 2009 Research Conference on Research Integrity Niagara Falls, NY May 17, 2009 Vicarious Traumatization ~Definitions “Vicarious traumatization refers to any maladaptive behavioral, emotional, or cognitive change in a person interacting with an individual as a result of the emotional intensity of work.” (Newman, 2008) “…transformation in the inner experience of the therapist that comes about as a result of empathic engagement with client’s trauma material.” (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995) “…refers to negative changes in therapists’ frame of reference…” (Collins & Long, 2003) Vicarious Traumatization ~In Contrast to Secondary Traumatic Stress “Secondary traumatic stress is the presence of post-traumatic stress symptoms in caregivers…” (Collins & Long, 2003) Vicarious Traumatization ~In Contrast to Burnout Burnout is ”…a defensive response to prolonged occupational exposure to demanding interpersonal situations that produce psychological strain and provide inadequate support.” (Jenkins & Baird, 2002) Vicarious Traumatization ~Importance Its effect “…is to change the worker’s self in the same ways that a traumatic event or context affects in individual’s sense of self.” (Dane, 2000) Vicarious Traumatization ~Direct Service Examples Working with survivors of domestic violence Working with victims of child abuse Working with cancer or AIDS patients Vicarious Traumatization ~Research Examples Research in war-torn countries Research into domestic violence Research with survivors of homicide victims Research into children who witness violence Vicarious Traumatization ~Anecdotal Evidence An investigator who researched breast cancer wrote: “Twenty-one women died during the study. I was affected by some deaths more than others, usually depending upon the extent of my involvement with the woman and her death. Reading my field notes, I can see that I have expressed sadness, depression, shock, anger, and feelings of great loss.” Cannon, 1989 Vicarious Traumatization ~Anecdotal Evidence – cont’d. Rowling (1999) had conducted research on loss and grief: “Nothing that I read in planning this study prepared me for the emotionality of the research process. I read recommendations about how I should address confidentiality, harm, deception and privacy, but there was not much written on such things as the impact on the research of listening to people talk about their grief, their fears and anxieties, sometimes being expressed for the first time and in times of crisis. Participants told me of events in their lives that had great emotional impact on them: at the time they occurred, and in their retelling. These accounts had an emotional impact on me as I heard them.” Vicarious Traumatization ~Traumatic Research Material – Suicide Notes To my dear children, Please forgive me for it seems I have spent a live time hurting those I love. I have reached a point where I feel I cant go on any longer. Although it may not have seemed to you all over the years I loved you very much. I now find my life is so empty and useless I have taken the cowards way out. I hope you will find in your hearts to forgive me as I hope God will. Your loving father Vicarious Traumatization ~Traumatic Research Material – Suicide Notes, cont’d. To whom it may concern. Please return this gun to my brother-in-law ---------- of 11 - ------- Street, -----. He has lend me this gun in good faith as I said that I would go shooting.... There is not foul play attached, as I haven't got much choice left. My wife and children are lost to me, and therefore haven't much reason to keep on going. There is nothing medical that can be done, and things are very painful. Even with sleeping tablets at night I cannot sleep because, I've got to take many tablets per day. If you would like to check things out, please get in touch with Mr. --- as you will know is a surgeon at the R.H.H. Please forgive me if I caused you any inconvenience. Good bye and God bless if that is possible. Vicarious Traumatization ~How It’s Addressed by RCR RCR Foundational Documents Declaration of Helsinki The Belmont Report It might be argued that “respect for persons,” interpreted broadly, includes researchers. The Common Rule Conclusion: It’s not been addressed at these levels. Vicarious Traumatization ~Possible Consequences Researchers’ undiagnosed, untreated mental and emotional problems resulting from exposure to subjects’ traumatization Insufficient attention to protecting human research subjects Data of questionable quality Vicarious Traumatization ~Some Questions Related to RCR Should we extend the protection of human subjects to include “researchers,” that is, those who are vulnerable to various types of harm during the course of research? Aside from our concern about our colleagues, should we be concerned about VT and related issues from an RCR standpoint? Vicarious Traumatization ~Some Questions Related to RCR To what extent does the vicarious traumatization of researchers affect a researcher’s ability to protect human research subjects from harm? If researchers cannot maintain “empathic distance” in conducting research on trauma, can they be counted on to look after their subjects’ interests? Vicarious Traumatization ~Some Questions Related to RCR To what extent does the vicarious traumatization of researchers affect the data that researchers so traumatized collect, analyze and interpret? Is it possible that those suffering from VT lose their scientific objectivity? Vicarious Traumatization ~Some Research Questions to Explore Do texts on research methods and RCR and other training materials address the possible vicarious traumatization of researchers? Do research institutions have formal policies on how to protect researchers from various forms of harm? Do IRBs formally or informally address the potential harm to researchers in their review of protocols? Vicarious Traumatization ~Some Research Questions to Explore – cont’d. Do researchers experience symptoms of vicarious traumatization? What are these symptoms, and what are their characteristics (e.g., severity, time of exposure until onset)? Do researchers interact with human research subjects in different ways due to reactions they have had to past traumatized participants or traumatic data? What do researchers find helpful in minimizing or preventing the effects of vicarious traumatization (e.g., consulting with a colleague, distancing themselves emotionally and personally from human subjects and the information they provide, engaging in quantitative versus qualitative data, receiving training)? Vicarious Traumatization ~Conclusions There are several levels at which etiological issues can be studied and addressed. Individual Situational Organizational Institutional Structural Isn’t it reasonable to focus on those levels that lends themselves to meaningful change? Vicarious Traumatization ~Conclusions The vicarious traumatization of researchers is a neglected area of RCR research and policy. Research should be conducted to explore the contours of VT in the research community. Steps should be taken to protect researchers and human subjects from the consequences of VT. Vicarious Traumatization Thank You!
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