Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Rehabilitation and Counselor Education

First Advisor

Wood, Susannah M

First Committee Member

Ehly, Stewart

Second Committee Member

Portman, Tarrell Awe Agahe

Third Committee Member

Colangelo, Nicholas

Fourth Committee Member

Persson, Dorothy


Childhood sexual abuse is a prevalent but taboo topic in society. Conservatively 80,000 new cases are reported each year with many more either unreported or unsubstantiated within the legal system. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often times seek counseling assistance to manage the variety of short- and long-term emotional issues that may arise as a result of their abuse. Professional counselors listen to the stories of the survivors and attempt to assist survivors in making sense of this horrific act of personal violence. This study examines the meaning-making experience of master's level professional mental health counselors who work with childhood sexual abuse survivors. A phenomenological qualitative research design was utilized to better understand the process that these counselors use to make sense of their work. Fifty participants were selected from a national data-base of professional mental health counselors who work with survivors. Telephone interviews were conducted with 10 participants. The study revealed that the stories of abuse had a profound impact on the counselors and that there was a significant evolution in how they felt about their work and the survivors they helped. The participants shared that a strong belief system and their theoretical orientation as counselors were essential in their meaning-making process. Other issues such as supervision and mentoring and the development of increased empathy proved to be important to the counselor's meaning-making process.


childhood sexual abuse, counselor education, meaning-making, professional counselor, supervision


viii, 181 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 171-181).


Copyright 2011 Anna Michele Viviani