Addressing Personal Trauma in Social Work


The social work profession is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it has been said that “social work is a calling,” an “inner conviction,” or “purpose in life.” No matter the reason for becoming a social worker; the profession has its many advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of the profession include a sense of fulfillment, opportunities for promotion, and practice flexibility. However emotional burnout, low pay, safety challenges and a heavy workload are a few disadvantages.

Professional development is also essential for social workers to provide quality services to clients. For instance, 7 newsbelize reported that on World Social Work Day, the Ministry of Human Development organized a trauma training session designed for Belizean social workers. The aim of the training was not only for Belizean social workers to become educated on trauma-informed care but to also address their personal life traumas.

Vicarious trauma is defined as the process of change that happens because you care about other people who have been hurt, and feel committed or responsible to help them. Over time this process can lead to changes in your psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being (Headington Institute, 2008). Additionally, personal history of a worker also plays a role in experiencing vicarious trauma. (Headington Institute, 2008) found that it seems possible that people who (because of their own histories) identify more closely with a particular type of pain or loss others have experienced will more readily imagine, or even remember, such losses happening to themselves. As a result, they may be more vulnerable to experiencing more problematic vicarious trauma and distress related to their own personal trauma histories.

Furthermore, it can be challenging working with clients in need of counseling support especially when it involves the therapeutic dyad of transference and countertransference. (Freud, 1912) explains that transference is client’s’ unconscious displacement of feelings, attitudes, sensations, and thoughts about or toward persons in their’ early life to their therapistCountertransference refers to aspects of the worker’s experience of the client (Sudbery, n.d.). For example, if a child experienced a negative event associated with an important person in their life, it is likely that the child will unconsciously redirect those feelings onto the social worker; impacting the relationship between the child and the social worker. Countertransference, for example, would be if the events associated with the child reminds the social worker of an unresolved event from their past, making it difficult for the social worker to be objective.

While it was important for Belizean social workers to attend trauma training, it is equally important that Belizean social workers receive support in accordance with their country’s social work code of ethics. Practicing self-care is also critically important to prevent burnout.


Dealing with Trauma in a Violent Society, (2017, March 1). 7 Newsbelize. Retrieved from

Freud, S. (1912). The Dynamics of Transference. Standard Edition, 12: 99-108. London: Hogarth PressCited & Retrieved from

Headington Institute (2008) Understanding and Addressing Vicarious Trauma. Retrieved from

Sudbery, J. (n.d.). Key Features of Therapeutic Social Work: The Use of Relationship. Retrieved from

Photo Credit: Pexels, Pixabay, License: CC Public Domain

Aneeta Pearson, MSW, MS


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