Traumatic childhood events have the potential to shape later life experiences and choices (Layne et al., 2014). Felitti et al. (1998) found that higher numbers of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) correlate to an increase in health risks and risky behaviors in adulthood. There is currently a lack of research regarding ACEs scores among graduate students in the helping profession. Thomas (2016) noted that graduate students in the helping profession have been overlooked in ACEs research although they tend to have higher rates of adverse childhood experiences than peers in comparable graduate programs. The current study sought to discover the rate of ACEs and if, among graduate students in the helping profession, self-compassion and psychological flexibility ameliorate the impact of ACEs on professional quality of life. Ninety-two participants were sampled from doctoral and master’s programs at George Fox University. Data analysis shed light on how ACEs scores, level of Self-Compassion, and level of Psychological Flexibility predicted self-reported Professional Quality of Life. A strong positive relationship was found between the abilities of self-compassion and psychological flexibility. In this sample, 25.8% endorsed 4 or more ACEs. Overall, they reported significantly more ACEs than the Felitti et al. (1998) sample and were more likely to report emotional abuse, emotional neglect, parental separation or divorce, having a household member incarcerated, and a household member struggling with mental health concerns. These adversities should become a strong consideration in program development, student support systems, and early career guidance. The present findings suggest that psychological flexibility and self-compassion may be important antidotes to the adverse impact of childhood suffering. Level of psychological inflexibility was shown to predict burnout; a concerning element of professional work. These data point to the importance of strengthening responses characterized by psychological flexibility and self-compassion during the educational stage of early career. The results of this study have implications for individuals, organizations, and the populations served by helping professionals. Often, the focus of trauma-informed policies is on the consumer. These data indicate the need for increased awareness of the trauma histories of providers and the development of self-compassion and psychological flexibility skills.
- Discuss the role of ACEs in a provider's own professional quality of life.
- Identify personally applicable strategies to combat burnout.
- Describe ways to foster the important skills of Self-Compassion and Psychological Flexibility in early career helping professionals.