Norja Elizabeth Cunningham is a 2015 graduate of the PhD Program in Marriage and Family Therapy at Antioch University, New England.

Dissertation Committee

  • Kevin Lyness, Ph.D. - Committee Chair
  • Megan Murphy, Ph.D. - Committee Member
  • Amy Blanchard, Ph.D. - Committee Member

Norja Elizabeth Cunningham, Ph.D., LMFT


Marriage and Family Therapy, Secondary Traumatic Stress, Clinicialns, Qualitative Research, Phenomenology

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Multiple facets of clinicians' lives are influenced by compassion fatigue including physiological well-being, the perspective of clinicians in relation to the world, and psychological and emotional reactions to trauma triggers (Figley, 1998). Work stress research considers the systemic effects of stress on workers' relationships. Research also shows that romantic relationships are negatively influenced by work stress (Sanz-Vergel, Rodriguez, Bakker & Demerouti, 2012). This phenomenological study investigated the lived experience of three clinicians and how compassion fatigue was experienced in their relationships with their partners and children. Clinicians completed the Professional Quality of Life assessment and those with a score of 23 or higher on the secondary traumatic stress and burnout subscales participated in an interview. The major themes that emerged in this study were: (a) awareness of the effect of compassion fatigue on relationships; (b) awareness of clinician's psychosomatic symptoms related to compassion fatigue; (c) awareness of the effect of compassion fatigue symptoms on the clinician's social interactions; (d) awareness of the importance of clinician's boundaries and self-care after the onset of compassion fatigue symptoms; (e) heightened awareness of spirituality or religiosity after the onset of compassion fatigue; and (f) awareness of the children's presence mitigating compassion fatigue symptoms. This dissertation also addresses the implications of this study regarding self-care, the limitations of this study and future research.


Norja Cunningham, PhD, LMFT

Norja Cunningham is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She received her Bachelor of Science in psychology from Trinity College, Masters of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from Central Connecticut State University in 2008, and her PhD from Antioch University New England. Her dissertation is entitled A phenomenological study: Marriage and family therapists' and clinicians’ perceptions of how secondary traumatic stress affects them and their families.

Norja has experience working with children, adolescents, families and couples with psychiatric, behavioral and relational concerns since 2005, in sub-acute residential, group home, special education and outpatient settings. Norja has also taught graduate level courses, as an adjunct faculty, for Antioch University New England and Central Connecticut State University.

Norja is currently an adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut State University. She is also a Clinical Program Director for Adelbrook, CSI, and has her own private practice. Within two of these venues, Norja also provides supervision to budding Marriage and Family Therapists.

ORCID Scholar ID # 0000-0001-5348-3497