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Devlyn McCreight, L. Mickey Fenzel, Ph.D.

Religious Coping as a Moderator of Burnout in Counselors-in-Training

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Clinical research suggests positive religious coping can moderate the negative effects of physical illnesses, reduce the severity of mental health symptoms, and decrease the impact of stressful life events. The purpose of this study was to determine whether positive religious coping also significantly moderated reported negative symptoms of burnout among counselors-in-training. A pilot study using a convenience sample (N = 33) of graduate students from Loyola University Maryland was conducted, with participants coming from both Pastoral Counseling (n = 17) and Psychology departments (n = 16). All participants were required to be currently performing clinical mental health work with clients, either through clinical internship or professional employment. Along with basic demographic data, participants were also asked if they were currently involved with a spiritual or religious community.

Two scales were used: the Brief Religious Coping Scale (RCOPE) which measures how often an individual utilizes positive and negative religious coping, and the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) which measures how often a participant experiences specific feelings about their current work. The MBI contains three subscales: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of personal accomplishment.

Results of multiple two-tailed, independent samples t tests found: Pastoral Counseling students reported significantly higher usage of positive religious coping than Psychology students, however, there was no significant difference for negative religious coping. Additionally, Pastoral Counseling students reported significantly fewer experiences of emotional exhaustion than Psychology students, but no differences were found for the other MBI subscales. Participants who reported current involvement with a spiritual or religious community reported significantly higher utilization of positive religious coping and significantly fewer symptoms of emotional exhaustion than non-religiously-involved participants. Finally, the only significant difference between groups for current involvement with spiritual practices was that those who reported current involvement reported fewer symptoms of emotional exhaustion than those who reported no involvement.

Following comparison of mean differences, a series of regression analyses were conducted. Ultimately, neither positive nor negative religious coping was able to significantly predict MBI subscale scores. Forced entry regression showed a significant effect when emotional exhaustion was regressed onto program affiliation, with program affiliation accounting for about 15% of total variance explained. Current religious involvement with a religious community contributed significant variance to EE, accounting for about 22% of total variance explained. No interaction terms were found to be a significant predictor of MBI subscale scores.

While the project yielded less significant results than anticipated, there does seem to be justification to replicate the study with a more established and experienced clinical population. There were also some collection errors which likely confounded the results of the study, so replicating the study with greater procedural fidelity would also likely yield more meaningful and interpretively helpful results.

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