SupportNet is a project in the Trauma, Health, & Hazards Center at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs that aims to assess the level of secondary trauma and burnout among military behavioral health providers and to provide a pilot support system for providers working at Ft. Carson, Colorado. It is funded by a 3-year grant through the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC).
Secondary trauma is a serious issue and occurs when caretakers are continually exposed to extensive traumatic material on an on-going basis. Symptoms of secondary trauma are similar to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and can influence ability to engage in the therapeutic process with clients, irritability, and emotional numbing. Secondary traumatization may also lead to severe burnout and turnover. Negative outcomes such as secondary trauma and burnout in mental health professionals working with highly traumatized populations has significant implications not only for the providers, but also their clients and the system in which they work. SupportNet is the first effort of which we are aware that approaches this issue in a scientific and theoretically based manner.
The current scientific literature on secondary trauma and burnout with military mental health providers is extremely limited. For example, the extent of these issues within the military providers is virtually unknown. Perhaps more critical, there has never been any scientific evaluation of interventions designed to help military mental health providers. Thus, we do not know how bad the problem might be, nor have any data on how best to assist. The SupportNet project was designed for this purpose.
There are 2 phases to this project: The first phase is a longitudinal study of behavioral health providers both on- and off-post. The initial survey (time 1) data have been collected and preliminary results suggest there is significant prevalence of secondary traumatic stress (STS) and burnout among behavioral health providers working with combat-trauma survivors. The time 2 data collection and analysis are complete.
The second phase is to develop a comprehensive program designed to reduce secondary trauma and burnout in military behavioral health clinicians. After a review of the secondary trauma and burnout literature for military mental health providers, a theoretically based model of coping adaptation in military behavioral health clinicians was developed. The program includes an innovative, web-based system of support for providers based on social cognitive theory coupled with coaching by a behavioral health clinician. The expected launch of a 60-day, randomized controlled trial of the support system is November 2013. While the initial target for this trial was Fort Carson, Colorado, we have expanded the the study to include other locations and community providers who are working with clients with military trauma.