Simpson, L. R., & Starkey, D. S. (2006).
Secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and
counselor spirituality: Implications for counselors working with trauma
. Retrieved March 22,
Secondary Traumatic Stress, Compassion Fatigue and Counselor
Spirituality: Implications for Counselors Working with Trauma
Laura R. Simpson
Donna S. Starkey
Laura Simpson,Ph.D., is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and
Approved Clinical Supervisor.
She currently serves an Assistant Professor of Counselor
Education at Delta State University, as well as an active clinician.
Her special interests include
spirituality, secondary traumatic stress, supervision, and group work
Donna Starkey, PhD, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and
Approved Clinical Supervisor. She is currently employed as an Assistant Professor of Counselor
Education at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. Her career experiences include
counseling in a community mental health setting, serving as the counseling lab director in a
university setting, private practice, teaching, and supervision of counselors for licensure.
As a career, counseling is recognized as emotionally demanding.
Therapists are called upon to
be empathic, understanding, and giving, yet they must control their own emotional needs and
responsiveness in dealing with their clients. When engaging empathically with an adult or child
who has been traumatized, clinicians are at risk of experiencing a state of emotional, mental, and
physical exhaustion (Figley,1995; McCann & Pearlman, 1990; McCann & Saakvitne, 1995; &
Pearlman & MacIan, 1995).
Empirical studies support the theory that counselors who work with the trauma of others have an
increased likelihood of experiencing a change in their own psychological functioning
Reactions may include avoidance of the trauma, feelings of horror, guilt,
rage, grief, detachment, or dread, and may possibly lead to burnout and countertransference.
Additionally, these responses can impact the counseling relationship.
If counselors are unaware
of this stress response, they may implicitly convey a message to clients that they are unwilling to
hear the details of the client’s trauma, or be less likely to ask questions to facilitate dialogue
related to the event.
This can result in a revictimization of individuals who often have limited
environments in which telling their story is safe and acceptable (McCann & Perlman, 1990).
The effects of post traumatic stress disorder to the primary victims of trauma are well
Of key importance to counseling practitioners is the examination of the effects that
working with the primary victims of trauma can have on the psychological well-being of the
These ancillary effects, frequently experienced by those not directly
traumatized are often defined as secondary trauma or compassion fatigue.