Secondary traumatisation and emotional exhaustion in mental healthcare providers: The mediating role of social support

Davy A. F. Brugman*, Arno Van Dam, Linda M. A. Van Loon, Anneloes H. S. Van Den Broek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Burnout, especially emotional exhaustion, is common among mental healthcare providers (MHP). It is caused by exposure to prolonged stress related job conditions, such as secondary traumatisation. Social support is a protective factor for developing emotional exhaustion. In addition, higher levels of social support are associated with lower levels of secondary traumatisation. However, it is unclear how social support and secondary traumatisation are related. Social support may be a protective factor for developing secondary traumatisation, as it is for emotional exhaustion. On the other hand, MHP who suffer more from secondary traumatisation might experience less social support, for example because they fear stigmatisation. This study examined whether social support mediates the relationship between secondary traumatisation and emotional exhaustion. Further, it is explored whether the relation between secondary traumatisation and social support is moderated by profession (physicians, psychologists and case managers).

In total, 593 MHP participated in this cross-sectional study. Participants completed a questionnaire including demographic characteristics, secondary traumatisation, emotional exhaustion, and social support.

It was shown that no MHP experience high levels of secondary traumatisation and relatively few experience high levels of emotional exhaustion, while they do experience much social support. Furthermore, as hypothesized, it was found that the relationship between secondary traumatisation and emotional exhaustion is partially mediated by social support. Finally, no moderation effect of profession was found.

These results imply that MHP have access to social support and make use of it, preventing emotional exhaustion. Mental healthcare organisations should maintain these resources for social support to prevent emotional exhaustion. MHP who are less inclined to seek social support should receive extra attention, as should MHP who are more at risk of secondary traumatisation. Even though MHP experience the availability of social support, still 25% of the MHP do experience emotional exhaustion. Future research should examine which factors for this group contribute to the development of emotional exhaustion so that appropriate measures can be taken.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1865-1883
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • secondary traumatisation
  • mental healthcare providers


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