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Preventing Burnout

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By Dr. Ria Baker, Associate Professor of Counselor Education

Counselors and others in helping professions, such as ministry, nursing, social work, and teaching, experience a high burnout rate. There is a very real risk of burnout among counselors and even counseling students, as they tend to struggle to attain a healthy work-life balance. They often work with clients toward achieving this balance in their lives and nourishing their wellness, but neglect their own wellness, perhaps under the false assumption that their training and emotional insight may inoculate them against burnout. Counselors form empathic therapeutic relationships with clients, who are struggling or in pain, and are at greater risk for burnout and, therefore, need to regularly engage in healthy self-care routines. Common signs of burnout are emotional exhaustion, such as seeing clients as cases rather than people, having reduced feelings of accomplishment, and displaying a noticeable increase in negativism, cynicism, and defensiveness. Burnout is a long-term degradation, while compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma, can happen very quickly.

Some stumbling blocks that lead to burnout are the following (Meyers, 2015):

  1. The desire to want to “fix” everyone or of caring too much.

  2. Discouragement or self-doubt, when a client (parishioner, patient) is not progressing. Recognize that some things cannot be solved overnight, but will take time, patience with client and with self, and if possible, a long-term therapeutic relationship.

  3. Unrealistic expectations about the counseling profession’s potential work environment that may clash with personal workstyles, interests, and values. Certain settings may consist of carrying heavy caseloads, receiving inadequate supervision, and lacking in peer support.

Meyers (2015) offers some tips for those in helping professions on practicing good self-care:

  1. Focus on wellness when things are going well

  2. Maintain professional boundaries and recognize personal limitations, as sometimes clients have problems that are not immediately solvable, such as addiction issues or domestic violence.

  3. Seek supervision and support from colleagues, with whom you can consult or debrief with regularly.

  4. Draw a clear line between home and office, by leaving work at work, embracing down times at home, and developing a life outside of work.

  5. Make time for play, participating consistently in activities and hobbies, and by making time for enough sleep, good nutrition, exercise, and meditation, and prayer.

  6. Take regular vacations and mental health days.

Practicing good self-care physically, emotionally, and spiritually is imperative for helping professionals who are entrusted with the wholistic care of others.

Meyers, L (2015). Stumbling blocks to counselor self-care. Counseling Today. American Counseling Association.

Dr. Becky Towne