Vicarious Trauma in Aid Workers Following the World Trade Center Attack In 2001

March 2004 (VOL. 22, NO. 1)

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This study investigated the prevalence of secondary trauma in volunteers who were involved in the emergency response after the World Trade Center (WTC) attack. Secondary or vicarious trauma is defined as therapists’ emotional reactions to their clients’ traumatic material. A total of 163 caseworkers, non-clinicians involved in addressing victims’ concrete needs, participated in a semi-structured phone interview that assessed their background and volunteer experience and a mailed survey that assessed their psychological status. Outcome data were the PTSD checklist (PCL) and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). Responses identified two distinct categories of volunteers: volunteers from out of town tended to be older, more experienced in disaster relief work, and had less levels of exposure to the attack than volunteers from the New York area. Most volunteers found the experience rewarding and enriching. However, 7.4% of the sample met diagnostic criteria for PTSD and fifth had BDI scores indicating moderate to severe depression. Prior trauma, exposure to the event, self-reported unmet needs, and beginning or increasing substance use after 9/11 were significantly associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms and depression. Post-traumatic stress and depression symptoms were negatively correlated with age. Having had previous disaster experience and living with a partner appeared to have a protective effect on mental health status. In conclusion, relief agencies should pay particular attention to providing support for volunteers with prior traumatic experiences. Furthermore, they should ensure ongoing support after the end of the relief work