Alison DuBois

Defense Date


Graduation Date



Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Counselor Education and Supervision (ExCES)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Lisa Lopez Levers

Committee Member

Joseph Maola

Committee Member

Julia Williams


compassion fatique, counseling, early childhood, poverty, special education, trauma


Secondary trauma stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma are terms rarely found in educational literature. Studies have shown the significant and lasting ramifications of these constructs within the realm of counseling and psychology. Professionals working in educational settings with high risk populations encounter multiple exposures to children experiencing traumatic events. Despite this phenomenon, teacher and counselor training programs do little to address the issue, thereby matriculating graduates who do not feel confident, well informed, and effective when dealing with trauma material on a daily basis.

This inquiry sought to examine the lived experiences and contextual understandings of early childhood special education teachers. Additionally, this study explored the effects of secondary trauma on professionals working with high risk populations, environmental protective and risk factors associated within the educational environment, the role of administrative support, and finally the impact of stress on an educator's career development.

Theoretical underpinnings of this research included Bronfenbrenner's (2002) bio-ecological model of human development, Super's (Sharf, 1995) theory of career development, and Figley's (1980) work on secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. Maslach's (1980) research on burnout, in addition to the current literature on developmental psychopathology are also be discussed.

This qualitative, phenomenologically-oriented research design employed semi-structured interviews with approximately 8 early childhood special education teachers currently working in Western Pennsylvania. A focus group involving 5 of the informants commenced at the conclusion of the interviews thereby providing participants with an opportunity to further discuss the topical issues associated with this phenomenon, in addition to the preliminary research data gleaned from the semi-structured interviews.

This dissertation addresses the key research areas found in current education literature associated with trauma, teacher attrition, compassion fatigue, and administrative support.