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Publication Date


Document Type



School for Social Work


Women social workers-Psychology, Aggressiveness, Bullying, Victims of bullying, Aggressiveness in adolescence, Teenage girls-Psychology, Secondary traumatic stress, Interpersonal relations in adolescence, Social agression/bullying, Victim/victimizer/bystander, Enactments, Relational theory, Vicarious trauma


This qualitative study investigated how eighteen female, relationally-trained clinicians understood and experienced social aggression with adolescent girls with whom they worked. The clinicians conceptualized social aggression as a female phenomenon manifesting as cruel language and gestures. They saw it as a co-constructed trauma dynamic where both victim, victimizer and bystander play a role. These enactments were fluid and interchangeable. They resulted in the clinicians' intense countertransference feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness, as well as of being silenced, manipulated, controlled, and rejected. Countertransference reactions and enactments were heightened for clinicians who had a personal history of social aggression, with newer clinicians found to be more susceptible to vicarious trauma. Social aggression was also understood as a re-enactment of interpersonal conflict and traumatic family dynamics. Factors identified as contributing to social aggression included parenting styles, such as conflictual mother-daughter relationships, and traditional gender roles in which women are expected to be relational, passive, and non-aggressive. Treatment recommendations included the establishment of safety, boundaries, and empathic attunement, and processing with clients the interpersonal dynamics of social aggression as they were reenacted in the clinical relationship. Finally, systemic interventions with families and schools were recommended.




vi, 133 pages. Ph.D. Dissertation-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma., 2015. Includes bibliographical references (pages 101-112, 123)