Self-help for Trauma Therapists

Published by Routledge in 2017


Photos from the book launch at Vicbooks in Wellington.

Book display at launch

 Display of book : "Self-help for Trauma Therapists: A Practitioner's Guide" at  the Launch at Vicbooks in October 2016.

BookLaunch 1 

Professor Tony Ward introducing Dr Pack at the launch of Evidence discovery and assessment in social work practice, an edited reader at Vicbooks in  December 2014


 Interview for NZ Association of Counsellors' Newsletter 2016

Self-help for trauma therapists: A practitioner’s guide by Dr Margaret Pack


'It was at the Hillview Clinic in the mid-1980s that Dr Margaret Pack began hearing from clients with depression and anxiety that they had had an early trauma. She found her a master’s degree in social work had not prepared her for working with this historical trauma and so Margaret sought more specialised training through the HELP Foundation, a research PhD and the Gestalt Institute of New Zealand.


Her practice experiences then led her to wanting to investigate how therapists across a range of helping professions navigated the manifold impacts and effects of trauma-related work. Observing difficulties with staff morale and retention in some of her workplaces, Margaret set out on a search for solutions to a practical problem.

Here we include an edited version of an interview that Margaret gave to the New Zealand Counsellors’ Association about her book, Self-help for trauma therapists: A practitioner’s guide which is now available via Routledge (see flyer attached). For information about how to obtain an online copy or hard copy, visit Routledge or Amazon on

How did you go about researching the book? In 2000, following ethical approval of my research proposal by the university at which I was studying, I interviewed 22 trauma therapists who were on the national register of trauma therapists in New Zealand for my PhD research (Pack, 2004). Using semi-structured interviews, I asked therapists and their significant others about the impact on their lives of working with sexual abuse disclosure. To add a further perspective, I interviewed separately family members, friends, colleagues and supervisors nominated by the primary therapists. I asked the personal and professional significant others to comment upon changes they had observed in the therapist in different areas of his or her life, during the time they had known them. Through the therapists’ own accounts which were interwoven with the perceptions of their significant others, I identified a gap in the existing literature on the impact on therapists from their work in relation to the effects on their primary personal and professional relationships. While there were self-care workbooks on vicarious traumatisation (Pearlman, 1996) and social work guides (van Heugten, 2011), I couldn’t locate a self-care guide that included the insights of significant others.

The book I went on to write aims to bridge this gap in the existing literature on vicarious traumatisation to evolve understandings of  the impact of trauma related therapy, drawing from both the insights of experienced trauma therapists and their significant others

How difficult is it for trauma practitioners to do the required self-care?

I think one foundation for self-care for therapists and any other worker involved in hearing traumatic disclosures, relies on self-awareness and an openness to hear the perceptions of others. Sometimes, it is difficult to dedicate a commitment to oneself as we are often focused on the client and therapeutic outcomes. Self-care is often neglected in our professional training and concepts such as vicarious traumatisation are fairly recent. However, knowledge of self-care and other support systems for therapists is considered vitally important to professional effectiveness and for maintaining a ‘fresh’ perspective in one’s practice. Knowledge of how to attend to one’s own self-care in the workplace has been proven to increase job satisfaction and workforce morale and staff retention.

Attending to what other people such as family and friends observe and tell us about ourselves is another facet of good self-care.I discovered in completing my research that the partners, husbands, wives, adult children, colleagues and supervisors of the counsellors I had interviewed had perceptive and incisive comments as to how their relationships with loved ones and colleagues were transformed by the nature of the trauma care work.  The mirror image provided by the personal and professional others’ insights was a potent reminder of the changes in the therapist’s sense of self over time and alerted them to the need to regularly self-assess what was happening as part of their own process. Finding the reflective space to work out what is going on is sometimes another difficulty due to busy caseloads, working in large organisations whose brief is to manage limited resources and allocate services when the worker is focused on helping the client. These ethical concerns can generate an internal tension in the worker that needs to be addressed. So mindfulness of tensions in the workplace and between one’s value base and that of the employing organisation is often unexplored. Another challenge is finding quality clinical supervision of one’s practice where it is safe enough to discuss these kinds of issues without finding they impact on one’s performance appraisals and promotional opportunities in the organisation.

How important is self-care for trauma therapists?


Self-care is a vitally important for people working with trauma. Therapist self-care has a flow on effect to clients so attending to one’s own wellness has the potential to improve the client’s wellbeing and therapeutic outcomes more generally.

Professor Charles Figley, developer of the concept of ‘compassion fatigue’ in his foreword to my book, refers to a point made throughout the book which is that self-care is a moral and ethical issue for the professional associations as well as individual practitioners. Therefore organisations employing workers who deal with trauma and professional associations of counsellors, have an important responsibility to support their employees and members with appropriate support, training opportunities and networking towards greater self-care.


How do you think counsellors can use or benefit from the book?

I suggest that readers’ read as little or much as they feel is helpful to illuminating their own process and themes. There are questions for reflection, activities and a range of resources such as web links, reference lists and case studies at the conclusion of each chapter which can be referred to when a theme or an issue resonates.'


The book concludes with suggestions for constructing a self-care plan that attends to each of the areas outlined in the chapters within the book. Having a self-care plan is crucial to looking after one’s own health.

What feedback have you received about the book to date?

The publisher, Routledge UK, has sent the book to three academics to preview. Their comments are that it is a wonderful resource for prompting readers to tailor a self-care plan, guided by the resources and concepts introduced in each of the chapters.  One reviewer, Emeritus Professor David Howe of the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, has written this about the book:


Working with people who have suffered trauma can tax the resources of even the most experienced practitioner. With great understanding and sensitivity, Margaret Pack reviews how working with trauma can affect practitioners personally and socially before then taking a practical and informed look at how self-care, good supervision and a supportive organisation can help the professional remain robust, responsive and emotionally available. The book provides the reader with a thoughtful, expert and caring guide to working well and staying well when providing support and treatment for those who have suffered the trauma of violence, abuse and neglect.’

Professor Tony Ward of the School of Psychology at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand has also commended the book:

In this wonderful book Margaret Pack combines a rich therapeutic perspective with sound research in developing practice guidelines for managing trauma. It should prove to be a valuable resource for therapists and researchers alike.’


Dr Margaret Pack has worked in practice for many years as a registered social worker specialising in mental health and trauma recovery. Dr Pack has over 50 internationally peer reviewed research publications drawing on her expertise in vicarious traumatisation, trauma-informed professional supervision and critical incident stress management, as well as her training in Gestalt Psychotherapy. For a decade she worked in a national trauma centre, where claimants were assessed for eligibility for services under sensitive claim. Her career has included developing a new well-being service for general practitioners in the Hutt Valley, before moving to academic teaching in social work, counselling, and allied health over the past decade. Her first book:’ Evidence discovery and assessment in social work practice, an edited reader with international contributions from the UK and Australasia has been reviewed this month in the Australian Journal of Social Work.

For queries about her new book or other publications, you may contact Dr Pack via email at:


Theraputic relationship with clients