Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Edward L. Trembley

Second Advisor

Dr. Ariel Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Suzanne Hedstrom


How female therapists are affected by the long-term experience of treating adult female survivors was addressed by exploring therapists’ commonly reported affective, cognitive, physical, and imagery responses. The study specifically examined experienced female therapist responses for evidence of vicarious traumatization (McCann & Pearlman, 1990b), a transformation process whereby therapists who treat trauma victims may experience profound psychological effects, including lasting changes in seven basic cognitive schemas. The study’s findings were also considered in relation to four other models of therapist responses to treating incest survivors: burnout, secondary post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic countertransferences, and countertransference responses.

This study employed a qualitative design, using structured interviews, to examine the self-reported responses of experienced female therapists to treating female survivors of incest. The structured interview responses of three female therapists with M.S.W. training and 10 years experience treating female incest survivors in outpatient settings were analyzed by a process of internal content analysis using coding and theme analysis.

The study demonstrated support for McCann and Pearlman’s (1990b) model of vicarious traumatization, in that all the subjects reported negative lasting change in one or more of their cognitive schemas regarding beliefs about themselves in the areas of safety, trust, esteem, intimacy/ connectedness, and frame of reference. The findings suggested that female therapists may experience vicarious traumatization in their cognitive schemas having to do with trust/ dependency on others, beliefs about the safety of their children, and their frame of reference. Positive lasting changes were also demonstrated by experienced female outpatient therapists in six out of seven cognitive schemas, a finding not anticipated from the current literature.

The study explored the interaction between traumatic content of therapy and the demanding relational processes involved in treating incest survivors. A formulation of therapists’ transformational process over time was proposed. Recommendations for female therapists and their supervisors were addressed including ways to offset lasting negative changes in specific schemas, suggestions for education and training, and the importance of a therapist’s support system.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access