Transformative Narratives: The Impact of Working With War and Torture Survivors

Elin Kjellenberg, Frida Nilsson, Daiva Daukantaité, Etzel Cardeña

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (SciVal)


There is growing interest in how helpers working with severely traumatized individuals are affected by
their work. A sample of 69 persons working with war and torture survivors across specialized centers
throughout Sweden filled out questionnaires evaluating negative (i.e., compassion fatigue—composed of
secondary traumatic stress [STS] and burnout—depersonalization, and impairment of functioning) and
positive (posttraumatic growth [PTG], compassion satisfaction) reactions related to working with trauma
survivors. We also measured attitudes toward human evil and death, demographics, history of trauma,
and exposure to trauma narratives in hours per week and years of practice. Compassion satisfaction
correlated negatively with most negative posttraumatic reactions. PTG was associated with STS,
depersonalization, and impairment in functioning. Negative reactions to trauma work correlated with
each other. Regression analyses showed that compassion satisfaction was negatively correlated with fear
of death and age, whereas compassion fatigue correlated positively with fear of and resignation towards
human evil (EVIL); the latter also predicted burnout and STS. STS also correlated with years in the field.
Depersonalization correlated positively with EVIL and negatively with fear of death, whereas impairment
of functioning correlated positively with years in the field and EVIL and negatively with fear of death.
The more years in the field, the more people reported PTG. A majority of respondents stated that their
attitude toward evil had changed because of their work. It is important to consider existential issues,
especially human evil, when evaluating the effect of working with trauma.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-128
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology


  • secondary traumatic stress
  • compassion fatigue
  • posttraumatic growth
  • evil
  • refugees


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