Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Doctor Linda MacKay

Second Supervisor

Doctor Maureen Miner-Bridges


There is a long and rich, albeit at times complex, history of Australian Christian mission work abroad. Missionaries have been motivated to enter the field by a desire to support the local church and other indigenous communities to attain a range of social, economic, and socio-developmental improvements for individuals and groups alike. However, this work is not without risk for the missionaries, especially when exposed to traumatic events and experiences that may adversely affect their physical, psychological, and or spiritual health and well-being. Understanding the impact of such experiences from the missionaries' perspective is important, particularly in the context of developing targeted and appropriate pre-placement training, on field support, and post-placement debriefing protocols, as well as addressing placement attrition rates. Employing an Interpretive Phenomenological approach, this qualitative study explores trauma-related experiences of Australian Christian missionaries to understand how those experiences influenced the length of field placement and attrition rates and affected their overall functioning during and post-placement. Seven Australian Christian missionaries ranging in age from 28 to 64, each with more than two years of field experience, participated in a 2-3-hour interview, with transcribed data examined using the Interpretative Phenomenology Analysis (IPA) approach. All participants had returned from the field earlier than anticipated as a result of experiencing a significant traumatic event or having undergone multiple traumatic experiences, which could be assessed as cumulative trauma. Themes emerging from the study included; the effects of both single as well as cumulative traumatic events on general functioning, psychological adjustment, and ultimately the discontinuance of field placements; the impact of pre-existing relational styles viewed through an attachment lens; coping and adjustment strategies and resources employed to ameliorate trauma-related responses or events experienced 'in situ'; and the effectiveness of 4 existing pre-placement, trauma-focused training with respect to managing unforeseen events during placements. The study’s findings reveal that current missionaries may be exposed to significant numbers and forms of trauma during their placements, potentially impacting their psychological and spiritual well-being. Despite the influence of a specific call from God to the mission field and the utilisation of an array of protective measures, including their connection to God, the experiences of trauma led these participants to return from the mission field earlier than expected. The findings contribute to a broader understanding of the complexities of serving on the mission field. Specifically, this study contributes to understanding the psychological, physical, spiritual, and relational implications for missionaries experiencing traumatic events and how those experiences contribute to attrition. These findings have implications for organisations involved in both training and sending missionaries to the mission field and their ongoing care practices.