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Psychological and the physical health impacts of forensic workplace trauma

Dipti Mistry (Psychology Department, NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Health and Care STP, Nottingham, UK)
Lynsey Gozna (Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Nottingham, UK)
Tony Cassidy (Psychology Department, Ulster University, Coleraine, UK)

The Journal of Forensic Practice

ISSN: 2050-8794

Article publication date: 18 November 2021

Issue publication date: 1 February 2022




Health-care professionals working in inpatient forensic mental health settings are exposed to a range of traumatic and distressing incidents with impacts discussed variously as “burnout”, “compassion fatigue”, “secondary trauma stress” and “vicarious traumatisation”. This study aims to explore the short- and long-term psychological and physical health effects of trauma exposure in the workplace for frontline staff in a forensic setting.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 nursing staff members working in the male personality disorders care stream in a Medium Secure Hospital.


Thematic analysis yielded five themes: categories of trauma; how well-being is impacted; ways of coping and managing; protective factors; and systemic factors, with sub-themes within each of the superordinate themes.

Practical implications

The findings demonstrate that some staff members were affected both physically and psychologically as a result of trauma-focused work whereas other staff members were unaffected. The psychological and physical health effects were broadly short-term; however, long-term effects on staff member’s social networks and desensitisation to working conditions were observed. A broad range of coping methods were identified that supported staff member’s well-being, which included both individual and organisational factors. Staff member’s health is impacted by exposure to workplace trauma either directly or indirectly through exposure to material, and there is a greater need to support staff members after routine organisational provisions are complete. Staff should receive education and training on the possible health effects associated with exposure to potentially traumatic material and events.


This research has further contributed to understanding the staff needs of nursing staff members working with the forensic personality disorder patients within a secure hospital setting. This research has identified the following service developments: the need for ongoing support particularly after organisational provisions are complete; further prospects to engage in psychological formulations; greater opportunities for informal supervision forums; staff training to understand the potential health impact associated with trauma-focused work; supervisors being appropriately trained and supported to elicit impacts of trauma-focused work on staff members; and additional opportunities to discuss well-being or monitor well-being.



Authors’ contributions: Dipti Mistry contributed to design and planning, collected the data, shared the analysis and write up. Lynsey Gozna supervised data collection on site, contributed to the analysis and write up. Tony Cassidy supervised the research design, Availability of data and material: Transcripts are available on request, advised on data collection and contributed to the analysis and write up.


Mistry, D., Gozna, L. and Cassidy, T. (2022), "Psychological and the physical health impacts of forensic workplace trauma", The Journal of Forensic Practice, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 18-33.



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