School of Mind-Body Medicine Student, Sarah Ness, Completes Doctoral Dissertation on Burnout and Spiritual Engagement in Trauma Workers
Sarah Ness recently completed her PhD in Mind-Body Medicine with her dissertation research on burnout and spiritual engagement in trauma workers. As a trauma worker herself, Sarah has spent the last eight years working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault at a crisis shelter in Charlotte, North Carolina. She knows the intensity of trauma work, and she is passionate about finding ways to maintain the health and well-being of trauma workers to ensure sustainable quality of care and effective services for trauma survivors.
In her dissertation study titled "Transcending Burnout: A Mixed Methods Study on Spiritual Engagement and Holistic Health Effects of Trauma Work," Sarah comprehensively examined the work-related stress and burnout symptoms in trauma workers and the role of spiritual engagement as a protective/restorative factor. With 310 participants from across the country, data was collected via on-line surveys using burnout and spirituality scales as well as qualitative questions on work-related stress and spiritual engagement.
Sarah’s research results revealed important findings and implications for trauma work, spiritual self-care, and holistic health. Quantitative data analysis yielded statistically significant negative correlations between spiritual experience and burnout symptoms, including all three burnout subscales of physical, cognitive, and emotional burnout. In addition, a significant linear regression equation found that burnout level could be predicted by spirituality level. Qualitative data analysis provided further insight into systemic sources of work-related stress, holistic health ramifications of work-related stress, and restorative effects of spiritual engagement. Most notably, results revealed organizational/systemic factors as the predominant source of stress rather than exposure to client trauma. In fact, direct work with trauma clients, historically considered the primary source of vulnerability to burnout in trauma work, was instead found to be a potential source of protection/restoration.
Sarah’s research also found that reported descriptions of strained organizational dynamics and systems were consistent with symptoms of organizational trauma, indicating that organizations helping those in crisis might potentially be in crisis themselves. In addition, a sub-theme of organizational self-care showed potential for protective/restorative effects of organizational implementation of spiritual engagement practices to help address stress effects on individual and organizational levels. The implications of Sarah’s research findings include the need for trauma-focused organizations to take accountability and action for their role in trauma worker well-being. Furthermore, the development and implementation of spiritual engagement practices and programming can be an important step for organizations to take in the efforts to improve outcomes for employees and clients.
Sarah plans to continue working with this research and sharing her findings through journal publications and conference presentations. Her commitment to advocate for trauma workers and trauma survivors is further strengthened by her research, and she plans to assist trauma-focused organizations with program development and implementation to improve individual and organizational health and well-being. She looks forward to expanding her professional opportunities and building her career as a holistic health advocate, educator, and consultant.
The School of Mind-Body Medicine congratulates Dr. Sarah Ness on her valuable dissertation research, and on the completion of her doctoral studies.