Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Counseling and Educational Leadership

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Larry D. Burlew

Committee Member

Brian V. Carolan

Committee Member

Leslie Kooyman

Committee Member

Catherine B. Roland


Mental health professionals treating clients who are trauma survivors spend many hours listening to traumatic material. The impact of this material may affect the individual in different ways. Some of the negative effects are documented in the literature as vicarious traumatization (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995), compassion fatigue (Figley, 1995, 2002) and burnout (Baird & Jenkins, 2003). However, mental health professionals also attest to the positive side of their work including posttraumatic growth (Arnold, Calhoun, Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2005) and compassion satisfaction (Stamm, 2010). Little is known about why some individuals may be impacted negatively, but others experience psychological growth. Attachment theory provided a framework to understand individual differences in relational characteristics that may predict vicarious traumatization or vicarious growth.

This study explored the role of attachment style as a predictor of positive and negative psychological changes in mental health professionals. Positive psychological change was conceptualized as compassion satisfaction and posttraumatic growth. Negative psychological change was conceptualized as compassion fatigue/secondary traumatic stress and burnout. Secure attachment was not predictive of positive or negative changes in this sample. Sense of coherence levels proved to be the most significant predictor of both positive and negative changes in trauma therapists. Age and supervision were also predictors of positive growth, and being a survivor of trauma was significantly related to compassion satisfaction. Implications for practice and for future research are discussed.