Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Stephen E. Craig, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jennifer M. Foster, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jeffrey N. Jones, Ph.D.


Burnout, ministry, resilience, stress, wellness, wife


Ministerial families are in the unique situation of a two-person career, where although the husband is the only one employed by the church, the wife is also expected to perform church specific demands and responsibilities (Frame & Shehan, 1994; Lifeway, 2017). Unique variables and factors of stress among ministry wives have been identified along with how their role affects certain domains of life (Douglas, 1961; Frame & Shehan, 1994; Lee, 2007; Zoba, 1997; Luedtke & Sneed, 2018). Lifeway Research (2017) found that 78% of ministers' spouses experienced some level of burnout with 22% at the highest levels. In the literature, burnout is connected to stress, as it occurs when resources are used up for coping with stressors (Freudenberger, 1974; Barnard & Curry, 2011; Maslach et al., 2001; Yu et al., 2015). Likewise, resilience has been explored as a phenomenon that can help mitigate the negative effects of stress (Haglund et al., 2007; Kermott et al., 2019). Whether an individual is resilient and able to cope with stress, or not and experiences burnout, has been found to impact levels of wellness (Eckstein, 2001). Research on these concepts reveals a framework where stressors exist, resilience or burnout occurs, and levels of wellness are respectively affected (Kermott et al., 2019; Mutkins et al., 2011; Pedrelli et al., 2008). It has been established that ministry wives experience unique stressors (Frame & Shehan, 1994; Hileman, 2008), however, the lived experiences of ministry wives, their resilience and burnout related to these stressors, and their effect on perceptions of wellness, have not been studied. With such a high rate of burnout reported, there is a need to explore the phenomenon of these women's experiences.

The purpose of this study was to provide a rich description of the experiences of stressors impacting ministry wives' perceptions of wellness through phenomenological qualitative inquiry to inform those working with this population. This study was conducted using an in-depth, semi-structured interview with participants who were currently in the role of ministry wife, and whose husband was serving as a minister at a Christian Church. Christian Churches are non-denominational congregations that emerged from the Second Great Awakening at the turn of the nineteenth century (Foster et al., 2004). These churches lack the structure and supports that are often found within denominations (McMinn et al., 2005; Trihub et al., 2010). The major findings of this study interposed onto the stress and wellness framework from the literature. Four themes of stress were identified by participants: Life Stress, Family Stress, Congregation Stress, and Personal Stress. Experiences of both burnout and resilience due to these stressors were shared. The three dimensions of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment; Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Maslach & Leiter, 2016) were present in their experiences, and they identified low level perceptions of wellness. When resilience was described, however, higher levels of wellness were perceived. Discussion of the findings, connection to the current literature, implications for counselors and congregations, limitations, and possible directions for future research are offered.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Counseling Commons