Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spirituality and Religion as Mitigating Factors in Compassion Fatigue among Trauma Therapists in Romania

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spirituality and Religion as Mitigating Factors in Compassion Fatigue among Trauma Therapists in Romania

Article excerpt

Emerging research suggests that, among trauma therapists, religiousness and spirituality may (a) buffer against compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout and (b) bolster spiritual growth and compassion satisfaction (Newmeyer et al., 2014). Despite findings that indicate spirituality and religion are sources of hope for people coping with painful circumstances (Pargament, 2013), research investigating the role of religion and spirituality as a protective factor (Weaver, Flannelly, Garbarino, Figley, & Flannelly, 2003) or as potentially promoting wellness for trauma therapists is limited. This study (N = 46) replicated a previous finding in which trauma therapists who endorsed a strong spiritual orientation reported increased compassion satisfaction when engaged in short-term (1-2 weeks), cross-cultural trauma work. Additionally, these short-term trauma therapists were compared to equally trained professionals working in the same context for 2 to 5 months and 6 months to 1 year (intermediate and long-term trauma therapists, respectively). The self-report instruments evidenced statistically significant increases in secondary trauma in both the intermediate and long-term trauma therapists when compared with short-term therapists. An unanticipated effect of the short-term trauma therapists' presence was revealed: On pre- and post-measures the long-term trauma therapists reported statistically significant increases in resilience. This implies that the presence of the short-term therapists was beneficial to the long-term therapists. Thus, "respite care" for trauma therapists in long-term trauma settings might increase their capacity to thrive professionally.


Research indicates that at least 50% of people will experience some form of trauma in their lifetime. Furthermore, 20% to 70% of people who experience a traumatic event exhibit psychological stress afterward (Figley, 1995). Traumatic events also impact first responders, community workers, medical providers, professional counselors, and clergy. The last 20 years have seen a rise in concern for mental health professionals facing increased risk of psychological issues such as secondary trauma, burnout, compassion fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This concern is evidenced in the growing body of literature documenting experiences of compassion fatigue and relevant protective factors (Pargament, 2013).

Compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard for trauma therapists working with traumatized clients (Figley, 1995). Experiencing the trauma firsthand is not necessary; the recounting of traumatic experiences by clients can negatively impact trauma therapists' emotional responses, resulting in detrimental effects for counselors, clients, and the wider mental health field (Barkley, 2013). Current research identifies protective factors against compassion fatigue, such as: self-care, emotional boundaries, training and occupational support, cultural diversity, spiritual well-being, flexibility, religious commitment, and previous exposure to trauma (Phelps, Lloyd, Creamer, & Forbes, 2009; Selby, 2009).

Secondary Traumatic Stress

Secondary traumatic stress, indirect trauma, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue are four distinct but related terms that have been used to describe the effect of secondhand trauma on trauma therapists (Figley 1995). In this study, we primarily explore compassion fatigue; however, secondary traumatic stress has important features related to compassion fatigue. Secondary traumatic stress presents in trauma therapists as symptoms of PTSD (e.g., hyperarousal, avoidance, re-experiencing) resulting from indirect rather than direct exposure to the trauma (Bride, Robinson, Yegidis, & Figley, 2004). Harrison and Westwood (2009) state, "The cumulative experience of this kind of empathic exposure can have deleterious effects upon clinicians, who may experience physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms similar to those of traumatized clients" (p. …

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