In this ongoing series, every two weeks the ACPE Research Committee will publish reviews focused on Level I and Level II CPE. 

Research Committee Review of Correlates of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Chaplains and Other Clergy who Responded to the September 11th Attacks in New York City
By. Mark C. Lee, ACPE Research Committee  | February 4, 2019

The study by Flannelly, et al,  explored the prevalence of burnout experienced by the respondents to the 9/11 attacks in New York City. The research measured the differences in burnout, compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction differences between those chaplains and clergy with CPE and those without. The bottom line finding is that CPE “appears to serve as a buffer against compassion fatigue and burnout.”  

The research also looked at differences between “responders” (those who worked with a disaster relief agency) and “non-responders” (those who did not work with a disaster relief agency) related to the 9/11 attacks. There were no major differences in the burnout, compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction rates between these two groups. In other words, working with a disaster agency directly in response to the attacks did not have a bearing on the burnout or compassion fatigue rates. Both groups reported very similar rates across the three subscales. There was a slight difference between those responders who worked with American Red Cross (ARC), as compared to non-responders. The attributable factor was the debriefings ARC offered to the responders.

Those with CPE indicated the lowest levels of burnout and compassion fatigue, indicating the highest compassion satisfaction. Chaplains with CPE appeared to have higher levels of compassion satisfaction. But, this appeared to be no only for non-responders, who did not work with any disaster response groups. For responders, CPE did not appear to have a significant impact on either lowering burnout and compassion fatigue or increasing compassion satisfaction. Again, for the responders, debriefings from ARC made the most difference. CPE was most helpful for those clergy who were not chaplains. Non-chaplain clergy with CPE reported “lower levels of burnout and compassion fatigue, and significantly higher levels of compassion satisfaction than clergy who never had CPE training.”  This finding indicates that clergy outside of chaplaincy found their CPE training to be greatly beneficial and directly attributable to higher compassion satisfaction than those clergy without CPE. Clergy with CPE directly linked their ability to increase compassion satisfaction to their training. Interestingly, chaplains, most of whom had CPE, indicated both higher rates of burnout and compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction. Perhaps this seemingly paradoxical result, as the study concluded, may be an indication that the work of a chaplain “is both emotionally draining and rewarding.”  Overall, the research found CPE seemed to be most beneficial for those non-chaplain clergy and for non-responders. 

[1] Kevin J. Flannelly, Steven B. Roberts, & Andrew J. Weaver, "Correlates of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Chaplains and Other Clergy Who Responded to the September 11th Attacks in New York City," The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling 59, no. 3 (2005).

[2] Ibid., 224.

[3] Ibid., 221.

[4] Ibid., 224.

The Rev Mark C. Lee, DMin, PhD is a chaplain at Brooke Army Medical Center. He also serves on the ACPE Research Committee. He can be reached at chaplainlee@gmail.com.
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