June 09, 2018

Faculty Research Spotlight: Pilar Hernández-Wolfe

MCFT professor Pilar Hernández-Wolfe and her colleagues have been changing the narrative of trauma treatment.
  • Copyright, Steve Hambuchen

A vast majority of the literature surrounding the effects of trauma treatment on service providers tend to focus on the negative impacts of this work. Dr. Pilar Hernández-Wolfe, a tenured associate professor in the Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy program, and her colleagues have been changing the narrative of trauma treatment. In one of her recent publications, “Development of the Vicarious Resilience Scale (VRS): A Measure of Positive Effects of Working With Trauma Survivors,” Hernández-Wolfe and colleagues illustrate and evaluate the validity and benefits of a novel psychometric scale that measures the potential positive effects of providing trauma treatment.

The VRS was created to measure vicarious resilience, which is defined as the positive impacts on and personal growth of therapists resulting from exposure to clients’ resilience (Hernandez, Engstrom, & Gangsei, 2007). In previous studies, Hernández-Wolfe identified seven dimensions of VR: changes in life goals and perspectives, client-inspired hope, increased self-awareness and self-care practices, increased capacity for resourcefulness, increased consciousness about power relative to social location, increased recognition of clients’ spirituality as a therapeutic resource, and increased capacity for remaining present while listening to trauma narratives.

The current article focuses on the experiences trauma care providers who work specifically with victims of sociopolitically based trauma in clinical and community setting developed explicitly for victims of civil unrest. This article found that VRS was moderately correlated with the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory, which indicates that the VRS is potentially tapping into dimensions related to perceived reward and positive emotions as a result of working with trauma survivors. To provide evidence of discriminant validity, they found that the responses to the VRS were not correlated with compassion fatigue or burnout, adverse impacts that are often associated with trauma care providers. Because of this results, coupled with the insight that 57% of the variance of the VRS is not explained by work morale, compassion satisfaction, and posttraumatic growth, the VRS seems to be measuring a unique construct.

Years of research later and Dr. Hernández-Wolfe has created a psychometric instrument that could enhance professionals’ satisfaction, personal affirmation, and sense of mutual affirmation within the therapeutic bond. She calls for prioritization of VR and therapists’ well-being because these can foster more positive emotions, increased self-compassion, and expanded consciousness around privileges professionals may hold because of their social locations.

Click here to read the full article.