(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Research has concluded that survivors and firefighters who were on the scene during the 9/11 attacks are still dealing with mental and physical ramifications from the traumatic event. But a new study in Clinical Social Work Journal reveals that 9/11 disaster mental health workers are also experiencing ongoing problems but that this group tends to be overlooked.

According to researchers, some people can suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through “secondary exposure to the trauma histories of others,” also known as secondary traumatic stress — and disaster mental health workers are at a high risk of being vulnerable to this:

“Not only are they exposed to the stressors and psychic pains experienced by their clients, they carry the professional burden of being expected to remain open and available to their clients on an emotional level. In the case of 9/11, these clinicians were also exposed to the same disaster as those they were helping.”

For the study, which researchers were hoping would lead to a better understanding of the effects of indirect exposure to terrorism, researcher Mary Pulido conducted one-on-one interviews with 26 mental health workers who had done 9/11-related therapeutic work with clients. The mental health workers were asked what impact these clients and their issues had, as well as what types of supports were available to them through their jobs for dealing with 9/11-related stress:

“The clinicians’ experiences differed based on the type of client: Some dealt directly with family members who had lost loved ones, others dealt with people who fled the burning towers, and some worked with individuals considered indirectly exposed, but who were still fearful and symptomatic. Thirty months after the attacks, secondary traumatic stress levels were high among clinicians who provided care to victims of 9/11. The clinicians being interviewed were themselves surprised at the intensity of these stress levels. In addition, they described availability of supervision and agency support as ‘weak,’ but said peer support was helpful.”

Said Pulido, “For many professionals, these interviews, conducted several years after the attacks, served as the first time they had discussed their 9/11 work and the stresses they encountered. This factor alone speaks volumes for the lack of support that they received while providing such intense clinical support for their clients. These findings need to be integrated into training and practice.”

Source: Medical Xpress

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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