Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

Lisa Samstag

Committee Chair and Members

Lisa Samstag

Nicholas Papouchis

Sara Haden


Anxious attachment, Emotion identification, Eyes test, RMET, Sensory processing sensitivity, SPS


This study used the wounded healer phenomenon, which suggests that people who have undergone experiences of suffering may have acquired empathic strengths allowing them to be more effective healers (e.g., Wolgien & Coady, 1997), as a springboard from which to explore issues related to distress and empathy in a therapist sample. It proposed anxious attachment and sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), constructs which have been associated with both distress and empathic ability, as operationalizations of the wounded healer phenomenon. Using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET-R; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), this study explored whether these variables may promote emotion identification, which research has indicated is an empathic ability (e.g., Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012). Emotion identification accuracy with negative and neutral valences (EINNV) was measured. The influences of emotion regulation and self-differentiation were also explored. Participants were 226 primarily trainee therapists who completed an online protocol. Although no significant relationship was found between anxious attachment and EINNV, results found that greater anxious attachment significantly predicted greater SPS, replicating previous findings, and that SPS significantly predicted greater EINNV. Emotion regulation and self-differentiation were not found to promote EINNV. Regarding exploratory questions, no significant positive relationships were found between personal therapy and emotion regulation, self-differentiation, or emotion identification. This study was the first to study SPS in therapists and discover a relationship between SPS and EINNV. Implications for psychotherapeutic treatment, as well as limitations and future directions, are discussed.