The Possibility of Over the Phone Traumatisation: A Repertory Grid Study Investigating Secondary Traumatic Stress in Samaritan Crisis Line Volunteers
Warner, Claire Georgina
Background: The literature suggests a consensus that individuals can become traumatised through listening to another’s trauma. Much of this research, however, has focused on individuals who have had direct, face-to-face contact with the primary victims of trauma. It therefore appears that there is a paucity of research looking at contact which is less direct, such as telephone contact. Aims: The current research aimed to explore the levels of secondary traumatic stress and posttraumatic stress disorder in a sample of Samaritan telephone volunteers, with a view to understanding some of the correlates of trauma. It also aimed to explore the personal construct systems of a sub-sample of Samaritan telephone volunteers, and explore any relationships between personal construct systems and trauma. Method: A cross-sectional design was employed. Questionnaires were used to assess levels of secondary traumatic stress and posttraumatic stress in Samaritan telephone volunteers spread across the United Kingdom. Repertory grid technique was used with a sub-sample of Samaritan telephone volunteers to elicit bipolar constructs comparing themselves and others. Results: 299 Samaritan telephone volunteers completed or partially completed the questionnaires, and of these 50 volunteers completed the repertory grids. Levels of secondary trauma (as determined by the Modified Secondary Trauma Scale) correlated with discrepancy in construing of the current and ideal self, levels of posttraumatic stress and exposure to potentially traumatic events. The Samaritans were not found to be suffering with secondary trauma. Degree of elaboration of self-construing reduced after the named traumatic event, and there was a significant difference in degree of elaboration for ‘self after traumatic event’ on the emergent poles of constructs. Conclusions: This research appears to be the first dedicated to assessing secondary trauma in telephone crisis line volunteers, lending some support to Sewell and Cromwell’s (1990) personal construct model of posttraumatic stress. The findings of this study challenge crisis lines to think about secondary trauma, and to implement some teaching and training around this area. Additionally, it reinforces that further research in the area is needed, and highlights the relative merits of employing a repertory grid methodology alongside questionnaires in understanding trauma.