Helping the Helpers

Thanks to a generous grant from The Peale Foundation, the Danielsen Institute research team has embarked on a multi-year project entitled “Positive Psychology and Formation-Based Flourishing among Spiritual Leaders and Therapists.” Through interdisciplinary cross-sectional and longitudinal research projects, we hope to learn more about these helping professionals’ experiences, especially the factors that contribute to a sense of well-being and risk for burnout. We intend to use this research to develop resources aimed at supporting the well-being of current and future helping professionals. This page will be regularly updated as new projects are launched and findings are published or presented. If you would like to receive email updates, please email dires@bu.edu requesting to be added to our research interest list.

Current Research Opportunities

CHRYSALIS

The COVID-19 pandemic. Systemic oppression. Political upheaval. Human rights abuses. Increased mental health need. Climate impacts. Collective trauma. These are just a few of many national and global crises facing our world today, which have taken a unique existential toll on psychotherapists, chaplains, and clergy who are on the frontlines of offering support. 

Are you feeling taxed as a helping professional? Seeking opportunities for self-reflection, personal growth, or connection with others in your field? If so, Boston University’s Albert and Jessie Danielsen Institute invites you to participate in a research study evaluating a new empirically-based personal and professional formation program designed specifically for mental health care workers, chaplains, and clergy.  

This free 8-week online program, including group and individual formats, will include opportunities to: 

  • Process the psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual/existential impacts of companioning others amidst trauma and suffering. 
  • Identify and develop personal capacities and culturally embedded strengths to metabolize these impacts in order to build resilience and thrive as a whole person.  
  • Reflect on your intersectional identities, life experiences, and core values, and how these inform your work. 
  • Interrogate and resist personal, relational, and systemic pressures that are counter to your well-being, while working toward systemic change. 

Participating in this randomized intervention study will help us better understand the unique needs of helping professionals in today’s world and refine and evaluate this novel online program in order to promote helping professionals’ flourishing. Financial compensation (up to $60) is available for completion of self-assessment measures and program feedback surveys. 

Click here to complete a brief interest form, and we will be in touch with you shortly with further information. 

Questions about this study? Contact Dr. Steven Sandage, the Principal Investigator, at ssandage@bu.edu.


Publications

We are very excited to announce our first empirical publication since beginning our CHRYSALIS formation program in spring 2023. Promising findings include significant reduction in burnout and vicarious traumatization, increases in well-being and meaning, and growth in strengths and virtues. This is the first-ever RCT of a community-based intervention specifically designed to pro-actively address helping professionals’ needs. Below is the abstract and citation, including a link to the article.

Captari, L. E., Choe, E. J. Y., Crabtree, S. A., Sandage, S. J., Gerstenblith, J. A., Stein, L. B., Hydinger, K. R., & Stavros, G. (2024). The Development and Feasibility of a Novel Group Intervention to Support Helping Professionals in Metabolizing Suffering and Engaging Strengths: The CHRYSALIS Program. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 1–40. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207284.2024.2329565.

Abstract
This feasibility study reports on the development and initial evaluation of a novel online intervention for helping professionals (HPs; i.e. mental health professionals, chaplains, clergy) designed to (a) address occupational hazards, such as burnout and vicarious traumatization, and (b) promote well-being and flourishing at work. In contrast with competency and self-care focused models, the CHRYSALIS (Catalyzing Helping Professionals’ Resilience, VitalitY, Spirituality, Authentic Living, and Inner Strength) intervention centers the self of the provider, explores cultural and spiritual contexts, and attends to systemic challenges. As part of a larger randomized controlled trial evaluating two program formats, the group format entails eight online sessions exploring strengths that can promote well-being, including processing, relational, vitalizing, orienting, and agentic capacities. To pilot test this framework and establish proof of concept, this study analyzed data from 41 HPs who had been randomly assigned to the group condition and completed surveys at four time points. Quantitative results indicated significant reductions in vicarious traumatization and burnout as well as increased well-being and meaning in work. Qualitative results suggest the intervention fostered relational support, cultivated new perspectives, and increased engagement with strengths, positively impacting participants’ work and navigation of caregiving systems. Feedback about cohesion and group dynamic challenges in an online format informed further program development. This study provides initial support for the feasibility and efficacy of the group format of the CHRYSALIS intervention as a creative means to address HPs’ risk for occupational hazards and promote holistic formation in a relational context.


Conference Materials Now Available

On October 28, 2022, the Danielsen Institute hosted a free virtual conference geared toward religious leaders and mental health providers. You can watch the replay and download the slides for each presentation from the conference’s webpage.


Online Survey for Helping Professionals

We have completed data collection and will update this page and make an announcement on the main landing page when published materials of these results are available.

The Albert & Jessie Danielsen Institute seeks to understand the mental health needs among spiritual leaders and mental healthcare providers at individual, relational, and organizational levels. In partnership with the Norman Vincent Peale Foundation and the Boston University School of Theology, the Danielsen will begin Phase 1 of this 5-year project by surveying working chaplains, clergy, and mental health providers about the realities of working in these professions. Participants in romantic partnerships will also be able to invite their partners to complete a survey about their experiences being partnered with someone working in one of these fields.


Peale Project in Public Discourses

Rev. Kristen Hydinger presented preliminary findings on seminary student formation experiences at the 2023 Annual Meetings of the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio, Texas. The presentation was titled “Providing Help to the Helpers post COVID-19: Burnout Prevention & Flourishing” and was presented in through the Religion and Social Science Unit.

In October, 2023, Dr. Steven J. Sandage presented preliminary findings on seminary students’ formation experiences to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, UT. The presentation was titled “A Relational Spirituality Model of Spiritual Formation in Seminary: Overview of Research and Future Directions”.

Several Danielsen Institute researchers presented at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C.

  • Dr. Laura Captari chaired a 110-minute symposium through Division 17 (Counseling Psychology) titled “Beyond Therapist Self-Care: Systemic, Culturally Responsive Strategies to Address Trauma and Burnout” in which Dr. Elise J. Choe and Dr. Sarah Crabtree presented findings from two different components of this larger project. Dr. Choe’s presentation, “Burnout and Flourishing among Psychotherapists and Mental Health Care Systems: A Systematic Review,” highlighted preliminary findings from a comprehensive systematic review on existing research on mental health provider burnout and flourishing. Dr. Crabtree’s  presentation, “Holistic Therapist Formation and Support: Toward a Systematic, Relational, and Existential View,” reported on therapist formation research done within our own clinic.
  • Dr. Steven J. Sandage chaired a 50-minute symposium through Division 36 (Psychology of Religion & Spirituality) titled, “Spiritual Struggles and Mental Health: Research to Inform Clinical Practice” in which Dr. Captari presented on integrating religion and spirituality concerns when working with clients that have experienced trauma. Her presentation was titled, “Spiritual and Moral Struggles among Trauma Survivors in Psychotherapy: A Practice-Based Clinical Study”.
  • Rev. Kristen Hydinger presented preliminary results from a systematic literature review on religious leader burnout and well-being research in the presentation, “Factors Contributing to Burnout and Well-being Among Clergy and Chaplains: A Systematic Review”. This presentation was part of a 50-minute symposium through Division 36 (Psychology of Religion & Spirituality)
  • Cantor Laura Stein presented as part of Division 36’s (Psychology of Religion & Spirituality) poster session results from a synthetic review on relational spirituality and Jewish spirituality titled, “Jewish Spirituality and Psychology of Religion: A Synthetic Review based on Relational Spirituality”.

The Danielsen Institute’s Director of Research, Dr. Steven J. Sandage, led a free web-based workshop for spiritual leaders sponsored by the Blanton-Peale Institute & Counseling Center in New York City on June 29th and 30th. The workshop, “Humility in an Age of Narcissism: Forming the Well-Being of Spiritual Leaders,” drew on research and prior formation workshops on humility and narcissism and on considerations of larger systemic forces of narcissism in the US context. It also connected humility to intercultural competence and social justice commitment in addition to other aspects of healthy spiritual formation. Spiritual leaders can typically describe significant challenges navigating these complex dynamics with certain individuals in their congregations or ministry contexts, as well as recognizing the ongoing formation challenges within their own leadership.

Preliminary findings from this project on possible ways religious and spiritual leaders can prevent burnout were presented at the 2023 Annual Conference of the International Network for the Study of Spirituality in Waterford, Ireland. Research Fellow, Kristen Hydinger, co-presented a presentation titled, “Personal spiritual care for professional spiritual caregivers: A dialogue about healing and wellbeing as a helping professional.” The presentation discussed preliminary findings about burnout prevention and flourishing promotion among a sample of professional spiritual care providers in the United States and offered practical suggestions for embodied practices specifically for spiritual and religious leaders. 

Research Director, Steven J. Sandage, was interviewed by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans for her Christian Century article on the clergy mental health crisis, especially in the wake of COVID-19. You can read the article here

Preliminary findings from this project on the formation of religious leaders were presented at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver. Research Fellow, Kristen Hydinger, presented in a session cosponsored by the Innovations in Chaplaincy Unit and Psychology and Religion Unit. Her presentation was titled “Religion is not a tool – From moral neutrality to moral responsibility” and drew on the Relational Spirituality Model to engage recent interdisciplinary discussions about the roles of spirituality and religion in spiritual care and mental health practice. 

The Boston University School of Theology magazine, Focus, interviewed Dr. Sandage and featured the Peale Project’s timeline and anticipated projects. You can read the article here.

The Brink, Boston University’s hub for research, interviewed Dr. Sandage about the upcoming Peale Project plans. You can read that interview here.


About Norman Vincent Peale & the Peale Foundation

Norman Vincent Peale, a graduate of Boston University (GRS’24, STH’24, Hon.’86), was minister with a strong interest in the intersection of religion and psychology. The Peale Foundation was formed in 1994 with the mission, “To provide financial support to organizations whose ever-positive words and works closely align with the values, beliefs and ideals of Ruth Stafford Peale and Norman Vincent Peale, emphasizing the development of a positive attitude and a spiritual faith that foster meaningful change and growth.” You can read more about the Foundation and Rev. Peale’s works here.