Psychological work with survivors of sex trafficking: a narrative inquiry of the impact on practitioners

Klann Thullesen, Mirjam (2019) Psychological work with survivors of sex trafficking: a narrative inquiry of the impact on practitioners. DCPsych thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute.


This study contributes to the limited body of psychological literature in the field of human trafficking through presenting new and applicable understanding about the impact on psychological practitioners of working with women survivors of trafficking for sexual exploitation. The three core aims of the study were, firstly, to expand understanding about the individual experiences of personal and professional impact.

Second, to highlight the support required for practitioners working with survivors of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Through giving voice to practitioners, the third aim was to provide a new body of evidence in this much under-researched area, contributing towards improving clinical effectiveness. Underpinned by feminist postmodern values, this study is shaped as a story of resistance against the marginalisation and oppression of women’s voices. Taking a narrative inquiry approach to exploring both the singular and common experiences of impact, four women practitioners were interviewed, twice each. The design was collaborative, incorporating analysis and feedback between interviews, as well as drawing on poetic representation taken from interview segments. Each participant worked in different, often multifaceted roles, as psychologist, psychotherapist, counsellor and expert witness, yet all were psychologically trained.

Across the four narratives, five different subject areas were identified: A personal philosophy, rite of passage, boundaries, protective factors, and knowers and not-knowers. These headings gave rise to a discussion of how practitioners are impacted in the immediate, on a psychological, social and embodied level, as well as longer-term. The underlying personal philosophies of practitioners emerged as both motivating and protective in the work. Pertinent also was how the impact of the work changed at different points in a person’s career, the initial rite of passage representing a particularly challenging time in terms of impact and learning about boundaries. The individual understanding gained from the four narratives led to concrete output in the form of a template for a practice-based manual of recommendations, for application with organisations and individuals offering services
to survivors of trafficking.

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