ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 53 ›› Issue (9): 992-1002.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2021.00992

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The double-edged-sword effect of empathy: The secondary traumatic stress and vicarious posttraumatic growth of psychological hotline counselors during the outbreak of COVID-19

LAI Lizu, REN Zhihong(), YAN Yifei, NIU Gengfeng, ZHAO Chunxiao, LUO Mei, ZHANG Lin   

  1. Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and Behavior (CCNU), Ministry of Education; School of Psychology, Central China Normal University; Key Laboratory of Human Development and Mental Health of Hubei Province, Wuhan 430079, China
  • Received:2020-10-14 Published:2021-09-25 Online:2021-07-22
  • Contact: REN Zhihong
  • Supported by:
    Basic Scientific Research Business Expenses Project of Central Universities of Central China Normal University(CCNU20TD001);Key Open Project of Wuhan Research Institute of Jianghan University in 2020(IWHS20201007)


It is of great theoretical and practical significance to pay attention to the mental health of psychological hotline counselors during the epidemic period of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), and to explore the internal mechanisms of the negative and positive impacts of empathizing with trauma clients for trauma workers. In this study, Participants were 776 counselors (with an average age of 42.57 years and an average counseling experience of 12.44 years) who worked on the online mental health service platform which was established in Central China Normal University by the Ministry of Education (MOE-CCNU) during the epidemic period of COVID- 19 in China. Empathy, mindfulness, searching for meaning, secondary traumatic stress (STS), and vicarious posttraumatic growth (VPTG) were measured by questionnaires. The results of latent variable structural equation model show that: (1) the empathy of counselors positively predicts STS and VPTG; (2) mindfulness partially mediates the relationship between empathy and STS, while searching for meaning partially mediates the relationship between empathy and VPTG; (3) empathy also positively predicts VPTG through the mediating paths of STS, STS-searching for meaning, mindfulness-STS, and mindfulness-STS-searching for meaning, respectively. The results suggest that we should treat the negative and positive effects of empathy dialectically and pay attention to the transformation from negative reactions to positive growth, which can not only deepen the theory of empathy and its influence, but also provide enlightenment for related research and implication.

Key words: empathy, secondary traumatic stress, vicarious posttraumatic growth, COVID-19, mindfulness, searching for meaning