PTSD Symptoms, Vicarious Traumatization, and Burnout in Front Line Workers in the Homeless Sector

Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff, Annette M. Lane

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Work with clients who have trauma-related problems is reported to lead to a constellation of reactions including vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Traumatic experiences are ubiquitous in the lives of homeless people, stemming from multiple life events prior to, and as a result of, experiencing homelessness. While most studies examine either burnout and vicarious traumatization or potential PTSD in people who work with those who are traumatized, they generally do not look at the possible co-existence of all three factors. They also do not explore if these factors indicate the extent to which burnout or vicarious traumatization may lead to PTSD symptoms or that the existence of PTSD symptoms may precipitate greater rates of burnout. In addition, there are no existing studies that provide a quantitative view of the characteristics of frontline workers in homeless services. In this study, we surveyed 472 individuals who work in frontline positions in homeless shelters in 23 different organizations. We found rates of burnout, vicarious traumatization and compassion satisfaction, comparable to workers in other social services organizations but found rates of PTSD symptoms to be at 33% of the total population. This higher incidence of PTSD symptoms suggests that workers under-report traumatic stress when it is described as vicarious traumatization, that they specifically attribute this to client contact, and that vicarious traumatization is traumatic stress specifically attributed to job-related events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-462
Number of pages9
JournalCommunity Mental Health Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr. 2019


  • Burnout
  • Frontline staff
  • Homelessness services
  • PTSD
  • Traumatic stress


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