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What are the character strengths of people working with domestic and/or sexual violence and how do they influence their professional practice and personal well-being?

Project Description

Applications are invited for a funded full-time PhD studentship exploring the role of character strengths in people working with victims and perpetrators of domestic and/or sexual violence.

Character strengths are trait-like dispositions that manifest in individuals’ behaviours, thoughts and feelings and contribute towards personal and societal wellbeing (Peterson & Park, 2004). Strengths of character have been found to buffer against and overcome negative experiences, enhance interpersonal relationships and improve wellbeing (VIA Institute). Whilst various classifications of character strengths exist, examples of those that have been studied within professional and academic fields include mindfulness, resilience, authenticity and emotional intelligence. Existing literature suggests that being able to employ one’s character strengths within their workplace is positively related to job satisfaction and workplace wellbeing (Harzer, Mubashar & Dubreuil, 2017), and that these strengths differ across occupational groups (Heinz & Ruch, 2019). Understanding the character strengths of occupational groups allows for opportunities to enhance personal and workplace wellbeing and can signpost strategies to improve workplace practices (Merritt, Huber & Bartkoski, 2018).

The last twenty years have seen the increasing professionalisation of roles associated with domestic and sexual violence. In 2005, the Labour government created the position of Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (Home Office, 2005) and a year later, introduced Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (Home Office, 2007). Both roles involve one-to-one support with victims of domestic and sexual violence and are often, but not always, situated in Third sector organisations. In addition, statutory services, including the police, social services and the NHS have all established positions with a key focus on domestic and/or sexual violence due to the frequency with which they encounter both victims and perpetrators.

Alongside the professionalisation of these roles, research has identified the potential negative impact of this work, identifying vicarious trauma, burn-out and compassion fatigue in those working with domestic and sexual violence (Taylor, Gregory, Feder et al, 2019, Slattery and Goodman, 2009, Wies and Coy, 2013).

Importantly, the identification and use of character strengths has been consistently related to enhancements in wellbeing (Harzer, 2016) and could offer a possible mode of protecting individuals against burnout and secondary effects of dealing with trauma. For example, research has demonstrated that strengths such as social intelligence and perspective protect against the negative effects of stress and trauma (Park & Peterson, 2009). Whilst high levels of prudence and forgiveness have been found to predict burnout in counsellors (Allan, Owens & Douglass, 2019). In challenging occupational contexts demanding high levels of emotional labour and interpersonal skills (e.g., teaching and healthcare), emotional intelligence can act as a protective marker by buffering the effects of negative emotions on burnout (Mérida-López & Extremera, 2017; Szczygiel & Mikolajczak, 2018) and compassion fatigue (Zeidner, Hadar, Matthews, & Roberts, 2013). Conversely, heightened levels of character strengths such as empathy and honesty might be positively related to employee burnout (Allan et al., 2019).

To date, research on character strengths and domestic and/or sexual violence has tended to focus on enhancing the wellbeing of victims/survivors or rehabilitating perpetrators. For example, character strength programmes have focused on supporting post-traumatic growth and ending violence in the family (Duan & Guo, 2015; Lehmann & Simmons, 2009). Currently, however, little is known about the character strengths of people working in these areas and whether they may influence how they do their job, as well as how they cope with the associated challenges. This PhD takes a multi-disciplinary approach to explore these issues, with the aim of better understanding which character strengths can mitigate against the emotional burden of working with domestic and/or sexual violence.

Funding Notes

During the period of your studentship you will receive the following:
• a tax free bursary of £15,009 for a period of 3 years
• a fee-waiver for 4 years
• a budget to support your project costs for the first 3 years of the project
• a laptop
• use of the Research Student Study Space in the Research School

You will play an active role in the life of both the Research School and of the School. You will be given opportunities to gain experience in learning and teaching under the guidance of your Director of Studies.


A complete list of references is available on the full advert:

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