Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Social Work

Department

Social Work

First Advisor

Dr. Melanie D. Otis

Abstract

A growing literature documents the inherently stressful nature of working with persons who are suffering or traumatized, and the potential for the development of stress disorders among social workers and other helpers. Previous studies of compassion fatigue and burnout have provided important information about professional and workplace variables that might influence risk, but little attention has been given to studying intrapersonal skills/abilities that might reduce risk and/or increase resilience and work satisfaction among helping professionals. This exploratory study asked whether levels of mindfulness, empathy, and emotional separation would influence professional quality of life, including compassion fatigue, burnout, and compassion satisfaction. Surveys consisting of demographic questions and four established scales measuring professional quality of life, mindfulness, empathy, and emotional separation were mailed to a random sample of 400 licensed clinical social workers in Kentucky. Data were collected between Mar. 8, 2008, and May 29, 2008, and included 171 usable surveys, a 42% response rate. Data were analyzed using ordinary least squares multiple regression, analysis of variance tests, and Sobel tests of mediation. Findings show significant, direct associations of higher mindfulness and emotional separation scores with higher compassion satisfaction scores and lower burnout scores. Higher emotional separation was also directly and significantly associated with lower compassion fatigue, and mediation tests suggested an indirect negative relationship between mindfulness and compassion fatigue as well. The personal distress empathy subscale had a significant, direct, negative association with compassion satisfaction, while empathic concern had a significant, direct, positive association. In addition, tests for mediation suggested significant indirect effects of personal distress on all three dependent variables. Results suggest that an increased emphasis on the intentional management of internal emotional states may be as important for clinicians as it is for clients, and that professional training programs should consider how best to teach such skills.

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