Vol. XXVIII, No. 3
Summer 2016
Text Only Version
In This Issue
Regular Features
Editor's Note
President's Message
Are Juvenile Sexual Risk Assessment Instruments Adequate on Their Own to Assess Risk?
Featured Articles
Preventing Clinician Burnout
A Theoretical Framework for Proscribing Pornography Viewing for Those With Sex Offense Convictions
Online Debate 5: Developing a worldly understanding of sexual offenders and their management
Students' Voice
Sexual Deviance and General Criminality Factors Among Adolescent Sex Offenders
3rd Annual ATSA Student Clinical Case and Data Blitz
Book Review
The Trauma Myth
2016 Election
35th ATSA Conference
Awards Announcements
ATSA Chapters: Amplifying ATSAís Footprint in the World
New ATSA Members
Newsletter Tools
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Print-Friendly Article
Forum Team
David Prescott
Book Review Editor

Sarah Gorter
Production Editor

Forum Editor
Contact the editor or submit articles to:

Heather M. Moulden, Ph.D.
Forensic Program
St. Joseph's Healthcare
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
E: hmoulden@stjoes.ca
P: (905) 522-1155 ext. 35539
Featured Articles
Preventing Clinician Burnout
Tyffani Monford Dent, PsyD
Monford Dent Consulting
ATSA At-Large Representative
Interim Co-Chair, Organization & Development

The term vicarious traumatization was coined over 25 years ago to describe changes that occur within clinicians resulting from their work with clients who have experienced sexual trauma (McCann & Pearlman, 1990).  It is believed that in the process of working with sexually traumatized clients, one is hearing the trauma narratives, going through the court proceedings with the client, and in all other ways being “exposed” to the world as a place where sexual victimization occurs.  Yet, this initial description of vicarious traumatization makes it clear that it is reserved for those clinicians who provide services to victims, not those of us who work with those who have caused the sexual trauma. In recent years, researchers have begun to study secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, and burnout in those working with sexual offenders (Ennis, 2004; Sorrentino, 2013).  Unfortunately within our work with those who perpetrate sexual violence, we do not often have a “back-up” person who can take our place in doing sexual offender treatment like we may in other counseling services. In such situations, we may face burnout, or what I refer to as “The joy in the work is gone” or the “I don’t care anymore.” Oftentimes, this is in conjunction with compassion fatigue related to arguing for a rational response to sexual violence in a world that operates on emotions, or trying to instill hope in clients when registration and other legislation make it nearly impossible to do so.  Although our experiences of vicarious traumatization may differ from those who provide support and treatment to victims of sexual violence, some aspects are the same.  Individuals working in this area may describe feelings of inadequacy or ineffectiveness, increased feelings of cynicism, being overwhelmed, or even compartmentalizing to the point of being disconnected. Conversely, we may become sensitized to potential risks, and may find ourselves hypervigilant as it relates to our own family. We view with anxiety every boundary violation and sexual exploration because we wonder if that will lead to sexual violence or suggests that abuse has already occurred.

Unlike work done with victims of sexual violence, society often does not want to hear about, nor do we have a place to acknowledge, the impact of working with perpetrators of sexual violence. Within our work with those who have engaged in sexual abuse, we face the judgment and emotional reactions when others hear what we do, or they may view us simply as “the sex offender lover/advocate”. We face a society that sometimes views our work with sexual offenders as unnecessary or ineffective, despite evidence to the contrary. The work done is often met with negative comments or perceptions even by those within our lives, which can increase feeling hurt, misunderstood, and disconnected (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2007).   

So, what can those of us working with perpetrators of sexual violence do to decrease the likelihood of experiencing vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, or burnout?

Get a life and allow yourself to live it. Every waking moment of our days cannot be spent reviewing sex offender legislation, reading articles about treatment/risk, arguing on social media about the latest news headline about a sexual violence,  or even discussing the merits of what we do. We must find time away from this difficult work in order to be able to bring an energized perspective to it.

Connect with those doing the work. Working in the field of sexual offender treatment can be isolating. Developing a support system of others who are doing similar work allows for a safe space to voice concerns, doubts, and receive validation that what we are doing is important.  ATSA is a great place to foster such connections, both internationally and especially through your state chapters.

Seek consultation. When experiencing burnout and fatigue, we often lose sight of the value in the work we do and sometimes, how to do it well. Having someone to discuss treatment progress and issues can help recognize the early signs of burnout.

Mentor new clinicians. Sometimes we find that we take on more clients and do more work because there is “no one else to do it”.  By training the next generations of clinicians, we allow ourselves the opportunity to share the work. In addition, mentoring also assists us by keeping us current on what is occurring in the field as well as being exposed to the “energy” of newer clinicians which can help us maintain our own enthusiasm for this work.

Take a self-assessment. Really take the time to look at Physical Self-Care,  Psychological Self-Care,  Emotional Self-Care,  Spiritual Self-Care,  Relationship Self-Care, and  Other Areas of Self-Care that are relevant to you. Write down each of these areas and identify what you are doing in each area to keep yourself well.  After doing so, develop and implement a self-care plan and follow it. The University of Buffalo has excellent resources on their website around taking self-inventory and developing a plan (https://socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit/developing-your-self-care-plan.html). The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also has a resource entitled Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Self-Care Plan that  addresses emotional, spiritual, physical, and social aspects of self-care that may serve as a guide for developing your own plan (http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/Documents/www.camh.net/Care_Treatment/Resources_clients_families_friends/Family_Guide_CD/pdf/Activity_54_self_care_plan.pdf).

 In our work, we often provide compassion and support to clients who have engaged in behaviors that cause others to not view them as deserving of such. We must remember that, like Psychotherapist Piero Ferruci said, “It’s all really very simple. You don’t have to choose between being kind to yourself and others. It’s one and the same”.   By taking care of ourselves in the process of providing treatment to those who commit acts of sexual violence, we are providing them with a healthier, better, therapeutic process.


Ennis L. & Horne, S. (2004). Predicting psychological distress in sex offender therapists. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 15(2); 149-57.

McCann, I. L., & Pearlman, L. A. (1990). Vicarious traumatisation: A framework for understanding the psychological effects of working with victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress3, 131-149

Sorrentino, R. (2013). Criminal Law: Secondary Traumatic Stress, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout: The Hazard of Working with Sex Offenders. Bar News - January 18, 2013


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