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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Effects of Person-centered Expressive Arts on Compassion Fatigue in Social Workers
by Edwards, Noreen L., Ph.D., Saybrook University, 2018, 144; 10791070
Abstract (Summary)

Social workers witness tragedy on a daily basis, meaning they regularly face significant risks for mental and physical exhaustion, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper. Person-Centered Expressive Arts (PCEA) is a group process that facilitates therapeutic growth through integrated use of art, movement, writing, and music.

This mixed method case study examined the impact of a PCEA group process on compassion fatigue in social workers. Two research questions were examined: “What is the impact of PCEA group process on participants’ compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress?” and, “What other impacts do participants report resulting from the PCEA group process?” Five social workers with M.S. degrees and at least 3 years of full-time work experience and who self-reported feeling tired, depressed, and/or stressed as a result of their job participated in the study. The group process was conducted over four 3-hour sessions and included movement or meditation, a visual art activity, and group sharing. Compassion fatigue was assessed prior to the group process through an online compassion fatigue assessment.

During the group process, data were collected through the researcher’s direct observation and participant-observation, and participants’ art expression. After the group process, participants completed the online assessment again and took part in one in-depth interview that was audio-recorded and transcribed. Within- and cross-case analyses were produced to determine the effects of the group process on participants’ experiences of compassion fatigue.

Findings indicated that all participants suffered from compassion fatigue before the study began and, to a lesser degree, after the study ended. Four out of the five participants outlined ways that PCEA eased their compassion fatigue by helping them regain lost parts of themselves, release pent-up emotions and energy, and recognize anew the need for work-life balance and self-care.

These findings align with past research, which found that the use of expressive arts increased participants’ abilities to identify, voice, and understand emotions; discover intuitive and spiritual aspects of themselves; release energy; and improve problem solving. Future studies are advised to further expand the body of research on the specific impacts of these group processes for compassion fatigue in helping professionals.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Goslin-Jones, Terri
Commitee: Herron, Sue Ann, Richards, Ruth
School: Saybrook University
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 79/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social work, Occupational psychology
Keywords: Burnout, Compassion fatigue, Compassion satisfaction, Person-Centered Expressive Arts, Secondary traumatic stress, Social work
Publication Number: 10791070
ISBN: 978-0-438-19649-0
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