While there are a number of approaches to understanding occupational vulnerability and impairment in psychologists, the most useful of those emphasize the interaction between the specific demands of the work and individual characteristics of each psychologist. In other words, as psychologists, our vulnerability to occupational stress stems from the interaction between particular aspects of our work (the situation) and aspects of who we are and our current life circumstances (the person).
An interactive model supports our contention that all psychologists are vulnerable to occupational stress and distress at times in their careers, and may be vulnerable to impairment given the right circumstances. One can think of this vulnerability as a continuum from occupational stress to personal distress to professional impairment. It is our contention that earlier awareness and intervention are in the best interests of psychologists and the public they serve.
Despite a small, but compelling literature on occupational stress for psychologists and other mental health professionals, the topic of vulnerability is not widely addressed within the profession. The prevalence of stigma associated with psychological distress and a misguided belief that psychologists should not be affected by their work, combine to create a "conspiracy of silence" (Pope, 1994) about occupational vulnerability for psychologists. Yet, at the same time, research studies indicate the very real effect of distress and impairment on psychologists (Guy, 1989; Pope, 1987).