Title page for ETD etd-12032010-145131

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Day, Kristen Wallace
Author's Email Address daykw@vt.edu
URN etd-12032010-145131
Title The perceptions and experiences of mental health professionals involved in the response and recovery following the April 16th, 2007 campus shootings at Virginia Tech
Degree PhD
Department Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Lawson, Gerard F. Committee Chair
Barker, Harvey Committee Member
Burge, Penny L. Committee Member
Lambert, Simone Committee Member
  • Counselor Wellness
  • Vicarious Traumatization
  • Shared Traumatic Exposure
  • Post Traumatic Growth
Date of Defense 2010-11-29
Availability restricted
The breadth of interpersonal violence is continuously expanding. According to Broman-

Fulks et al. (2006), current epidemiological studies estimate that between 50% and 70% of

individuals in the United States have experienced some form of interpersonal violence during

their lifetime. The occurrence of “traumatic incidents may create powerful affective responses in

those who rescue, care for, and counsel the individuals directly affected” (Wilson & Lindy, 1994,

p. 333). This emotional reactivity is especially prevalent among those that work with survivors

of violent traumatic events (McCann & Pearlman, 1990). The variety of issues that mental

health professionals encounter are multidimensional and include their work context,

characteristics of their clients, and therapist variables. Due to such complexity, it is critical to

consider the broad ramifications and scope of professional quality of life when addressing the

outcomes of trauma work on mental health professionals.

The purpose of this study was to analyze, through qualitative methodology, the

professional quality of life of mental health professionals directly involved in the recovery

efforts after the campus shootings that occurred at Virginia Tech on April 16th, 2007. A

phenomenological research design was used to gather information regarding the experiences and

perceptions of various mental health professionals. Two in-depth interviews were conducted to

examine therapists’ experiences regarding the vicarious exposure and growth potential involved

in this work. Analysis from the data revealed two primary themes; changed perception due to

shared traumatic exposure and the costs and benefits derived from trauma work. These themes depicted

the professional consequences for mental health workers who have been directly

affected by traumatic events and serve clients exposed to the same event. Findings indicate that

self-awareness is a critical component to enhancing therapeutic lenses and professional and

personal wellness. Further research considering the influence of shared exposure to trauma on

mental health professionals could further our understanding of the professional and personal

consequences of such work. This research could provide a guide for preparing current and future

counselors and supervisors when working during times of crisis.

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