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Marriage and family therapists’ exposure to trauma, access to support, and intention to leave: It takes a village

APA Citation:

Armes, S. E., Seponski, D. M., Bride, B. E., & Bryant, C. M. (2024). Marriage and family therapists’ exposure to trauma, access to support, and intention to leave: It takes a village. International Journal of Systemic Therapy, 35(2), 178-197. https://doi.org/10.1080/2692398X.2023.2223119

Abstract Created by REACH:

Secondary traumatic stress (STS) among helping professionals can be caused by indirect exposure to trauma when patients or clients share their traumatic experiences. The symptoms of intrusion, avoidance, and arousal often mirror those of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study examined the relationships among indirect trauma exposure, therapists’ STS, and intention to leave their current job among 201 marriage and family therapists. The roles of compassion satisfaction (i.e., finding meaning and satisfaction in helping work), social support, and organizational support (i.e., workplace is STS-aware and attempts to buffer STS effects) were also examined. Overall, therapists who were indirectly exposed to more trauma in their work reported more severe STS symptoms and, in turn, greater intention to leave their job.


Mental health

Subject Affiliation:



Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study


Armes, Stephanie E., Seponski, Desiree M., Bride, Brian E., Bryant, Chalandra M.


Secondary traumatic stress (STS), or experiencing trauma through exposure to clients’ traumatic stories, occurs across helping professions. No studies have focused solely on STS in Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs). In a sample of MFTs (N = 201), this study hypothesized that exposure to trauma through therapeutic work would be associated with STS and MFTs’ intentions to leave their job. Findings indicated trauma exposure was positively associated with STS (β = .33, p < .001) and intention to leave (β = .18, p < .001). STS partially mediated the association between MFTs’ exposure to trauma in their work and intention to leave (β = .06, p < .05). Compassion satisfaction (β = −.49, p < .001) and organizational commitment to resilience building (β = −.26, p < .001) were negatively associated with intention to leave. The final model accounted for 58% of the variance in intention to leave. Prevention implications are discussed.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


support, marriage and family therapists, intention to leave, secondary traumatic stress

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  October 2023

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