Working with psychological trauma: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of trauma-focused CBT and EMDR
AuthorsFolland, Caroline H
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractPurpose: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acknowledged repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of traumatic event(s) in the course of professional duties, can lead to symptoms of PTSD. This has led to discussions around impact and prevalence of vicarious trauma in psychological therapists treating trauma clients. This study considers how therapists delivering trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) make sense of their experiences and protect themselves from any negative effects of the work. Furthermore, it considers if there is a distinction in therapist experience between the two modalities. Methodology/Method: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was conducted to explore how trauma-focused CBT and EMDR therapists engaged in trauma work, interpreted and made sense of their experiences; with a view to identifying any protective practice that informed clinical practice and helped ameliorate vicarious trauma. Recorded, semi-structured interviews were conducted with CBT and EMDR therapists (N=11). Before analysis, interviews were transcribed verbatim and sent to individual participants for validation of their authenticity. Data was analysed using descriptive, linguistic and conceptual comments to identify an initial seventy nine emergent themes. When refined, four master themes of ‘Nature of Trauma’, ‘Participant sense of self and managing the process of hearing trauma narrative’, ‘Participant experience of delivering the trauma models’ and ‘Protecting and sustaining the participant sense of self’ were identified to answer the research question and are discussed herein. Findings: This study forms part of the growing body of evidence towards understanding therapist vicarious traumatisation. It both supports and challenges findings of previous studies. It also introduces new concepts in relation to the vicarious trauma phenomenon. Whilst there are clear limitations associated with making generalisations from an IPA study, the findings from the study suggest EMDR may be a protective factor against the negative effects of hearing repeated trauma narrative. Furthermore, certain strategies such as time management, comprehensive trauma training and specific trauma supervision, may also reduce the negative effects of hearing trauma narrative. Finally, regardless of the difficulties faced, therapists enjoy their trauma work and feel a great sense of professional satisfaction. Implications/Recommendations: Indications from the findings of the study are that therapists working within primary care in particular, are becoming increasingly pressurised by cuts to funding within mental health services. Recommendations are that those components of trauma work which promote therapist wellbeing should be supported. In particular, realistic timeframes within which to work, good quality training and supervisors, ideally external to the workplace, who can provide trauma-specific supervision.
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