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Therapist Self-Care Compassion Fatigue & Secondary Traumatic Stress
Domestic Violence continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 2
Variables Associated with Secondary Traumatic Stress
Among Mental Health Professionals

CEU Question 2 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last track we discussed four key risk factors to the development of Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder and steps to alleviate these feelings. Once again examples will be given specific to dealing with battered women to enable the provision of specific techniques with specific examples. Should you be, for example, a first responder ship to the examples to, for example, times you have felt “inadequate” based on the role of your job.

This track will look at what I feel is the biggest trigger for STSD and possible burn-out. This trigger is the perceived inadequacies that result from a client's cycle of leaving and returning, only to leave and return again and again.

Have you found, like I, it is often difficult to feel adequate as a helper when a battered woman continues to return to her battering spouse? In these cases, I find it helpful to maintain my perspective and remember that the average battered woman leaves 7 to 8 times before permanently leaving a relationship.

Case Study: Melissa & Dusty
Melissa, age 32, met Dusty online. After about a year of dating they moved in together. Due to receiving numerous slaps in the face and punches, Melissa had left Dusty three times. However, currently Melissa was living with Dusty again. Melissa stated, "Dusty accused me of stealing money from his wallet and started to slap me in the face for lying when I said I didn't do it. Then a few minutes later he found the money in his pocket. Instead of apologizing, he came back to slap me more. He yelled at me, 'You must have moved it!' That's how it always is with him, it's always someone else's fault. That's why I left him, but then I got so scared on my own. I just had to go back." (C7.)

As with Melissa, there are many factors that determine if a woman will permanently leave her situation. To help myself cope with my feelings of inadequacy and burn-out, I find the information from Gelles (Gel-is) and Straus to be helpful. Gelles and Straus outlined four factors that distinguish between a battered woman who leaves her situation from a battered woman who stays. As you listen, think of one of your battered clients who returned to an abusive relationship. Did this cause you to begin second-guessing? Did you find yourself saying to yourself things like, "If-only," "I could've," "I should've," "I would've?"

The 4 Leaving vs. Staying Factors are:

1. A battered woman who leaves seemed to have experienced more violence.
Maybe your client who returned just hasn't "bottomed-out" yet and hasn't experienced that "last straw" syndrome. The violence she has experienced may be horrible, but not horrible enough for her to leave.

2. A woman who is more likely to stay in an abusive relationship grew up in a violent home.

As you may know, t seems that this past history gave her less hope of escape. For your client who returned to her batterer, ask yourself if the level of violence she is currently experiencing is a piece of cake compared to the level of violence she grew up with.

3. A woman with young children is more likely to stay.
As her children get older and they get hurt trying to protect her, she is more likely to leave. Did your battered client who returned have young children? Perhaps as they grow older your battered client will be more likely to leave to protect them.

4. A woman who is less educated is generally more likely to stay.
This may be because she has fewer job skills and is more likely to be unemployed. Essentially, she has fewer resources to help her leave. Consider a client you are currently treating. Did her level of education play any part in her decision to leave or stay?

Would it be beneficial to you to replay this track to the CD periodically to remind yourself that factors such as the level of violence currently experienced; the level of violence experienced as a child; safety of children; and education all play a part in whether the client decides to return or not? Do you agree that this may help to alleviate your feelings of burn-out and feelings of inadequacy?

When feeling inadequate as a helper for a battered woman, I also find it helpful to remember that leaving her battering partner is not the only way to stop the violence. As you know, there are, in some cases, battered women who manage to stop the violence with their husbands, and stay in the relationship. I often have to remind myself that the battered woman should decide what is best for her, and sometimes that is returning to her battering spouse.

This track has discussed the feelings of inadequacy and burn-out that may occur when a battered woman enters the cycle of leaving and returning to her battered partner.

In the next track, we will look at Countertransference and ways a therapist can protect his or herself while treating battering relationships.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ivicic, R., & Motta, R. (2017). Variables associated with secondary traumatic stress among mental health professionals. Traumatology, 23(2), 196–204. 

Rzeszutek, M., Partyka, M., & Gołąb, A. (2015). Temperament traits, social support, and secondary traumatic stress disorder symptoms in a sample of trauma therapists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(4), 213–220. 

Nissen-Lie, H. A., Orlinsky, D. E., & Rønnestad, M. H. (2021). The emotionally burdened psychotherapist: Personal and situational risk factors. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

Sprang, G., Ford, J., Kerig, P., & Bride, B. (2019). Defining secondary traumatic stress and developing targeted assessments and interventions: Lessons learned from research and leading experts. Traumatology, 25(2), 72–81.

Wartski, S. (2020). Ode to self-care. Families, Systems, & Health, 38(3), 327–328.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 2
What four factors can determine whether a battered woman will leave her situation? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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