Museology Master of Arts Program

April 6, 2021

Trying to Engender A Culture of Support: Coping Mechanisms for Empathy Burnout for Museum Interpreters

Research Thesis by Emily Hardin

Every year, millions of people in the country visit trauma site museums and memorials, hoping to engage with and learn about difficult histories. The front-facing staff of these museums, like interpreters, engage with significant number of these visitors, putting these staff members at risk of experiencing emotional burnout and strain due to both visitor interactions and traumatic material. How do staff members remain in their positions even as they combat burnout from constant exposure to difficult stories, extreme emotions, and more? The purpose of the phenomenological study was to examine the nature of empathy burnout and potential coping mechanisms for interpretive staff who work with traumatic material at historical and memorial museums. Qualitative data was collected through semi-structured interviews with 5 participants who work at 4 different traumatic history and memorial sites. The initial results indicate that these front-facing museum professionals noticed the impacts of empathy burnout on their work and engaged with coping mechanisms either personally or in their work environment. The participants also offered suggestions as to what museological institutions can do to better support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. These preliminary findings have implications for museum practice concerning what they can do as employers to continue to help their employees’ mental health.


Hardin, E. N. (2020). Trying to engender a culture of support: Coping mechanisms for empathy burnout for museum interpreters (Order No. 28001012). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2437434987). Retrieved from


Empathy burnout, Mental health, Museum, Trauma site