Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education and International Services


Counseling Psychology, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Elvin Gabriel

Second Advisor

Nancy Carbonell

Third Advisor

Jimmy Kijai



Posttraumatic growth has been defined as the positive psychological and behavioral changes that come about in the aftermath of a struggle with traumatic life events. The literature notes the existence of posttraumatic growth among survivors of intimate partner violence, childhood and/or adult sexual abuse, bereavement, terrorism, and other events. This study explored posttraumatic growth in a sample of female survivors of sexual abuse by religious leaders by examining how distress, spiritual coping, and posttraumatic growth were related in this population. This study examined the mediatory role of spiritual coping between distress and posttraumatic growth.


Surveys that measured spiritual coping, distress, posttraumatic growth, and the context of abuse were completed by 113 participants. The following were inclusion criteria for the sample: female identification, age 18 or older, and an experience of sexual abuse by religious leaders. The resulting data was analyzed using descriptive statistics, Path Analysis, and Structural Equation Modeling.


Path Analysis indicated that positive spiritual coping, but not negative spiritual coping, was a predictor of PTG. High distress was also found to directly predict posttraumatic growth. However, distress and spiritual coping were not related to one another. Consequently, spiritual coping did not mediate the relationship between distress and posttraumatic growth.


While this study did not find that spiritual coping played a mediatory role in the relationship between distress and posttraumatic growth, it provided evidence of a direct correlation between high distress and posttraumatic growth. This finding supports the literature suggesting a positive link between these two constructs. Additionally, the fact that negative spiritual coping was unrelated to posttraumatic growth while positive spiritual coping directly predicted posttraumatic growth lends support to the distinctiveness of these coping styles and suggests that certain styles of spiritual coping are more likely to facilitate growth than others. Lastly, the link between positive spiritual coping and posttraumatic growth suggests that positive spiritual coping can be a beneficial resource for female survivors of sexual abuse by religious leaders.

Subject Area

Posttraumatic growth; Sexual abuse victims; Sexual misconduct by clergy; Distress (Psychology); Adjustment (Psychology)