Ptsd: For Social Workers, The Price Of Caring

Listening to a victim of sexual assault or a survivor of a natural disaster, social workers hear traumatic stories. Recounting these upsetting events helps victims heal, but, says a recent study, can hurt social workers in the process. A study in the journal Social Work (by Brian Bride, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia) shows that social workers face a heightened risk of developing post-traumatic-stress disorder: 7.8 percent of the general population experiences PTSD in their lifetime, compared with 15 percent of the active social workers that Bride surveyed. Forty percent of participants reported thinking about their traumatized clients repeatedly and unintentionally; 28 percent reported difficulty concentrating and 26 percent felt emotionally numb. This "secondary traumatic stress" could reduce the quality of care social workers provide and may be responsible for driving people from the profession, which already suffers personnel shortages. Bride thinks many social workers mistake their own symptoms for burnout, rather than trauma, and must learn to ID the problem--and give themselves a break.