Burnout is a term used to signify the mental fatigue that often accompanies professional demands. The intensity of therapist burnout often differs between different therapists with indicators that vary from empathic slips to grumpiness and retorting at patients during therapy sessions. Therapist burnout levels are linked to emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and individual sense of professional and personal accomplishment. The study used the Counselor Burnout Inventory to investigate the causes of burnout among therapists using a sample of 167 therapists.
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The findings of the research supported the main hypothesis, which stated that burnout was connected to interpersonal challenges. As established in the study, burnout among the therapists engaged in the sample increased in consistency with an increase in the levels of interpersonal problems. The study findings indicated that the relationship between burnout and interpersonal challenges agreed with the perception of the process of psychotherapy as an interpersonal practice (Hersoug et al., 2001). That finding implied that personal events in therapists’ lives played a significant role in the way they performed their therapeutic duties.
This relationship between interpersonal challenges and burnout can be attributed to personal stressors such as divorce, bereavement and bankruptcy, which increase therapist stress levels. While interpersonal problems affect the overall productivity of therapists, prolonged exposure to stressors directly elevate the levels of burnout.
The way therapists respond to these stressors is likely to affect their burnout levels. People who approach interpersonal problems in a proactive and confrontational manner are capable of dealing more effectively with stressors than those who postpone or escape personal problems. Future studies in this area should focus on specific interpersonal stressors and how each contributes to therapist burnout.
The study findings indicated no substantial variance regarding the personal experience of therapists who had undergone a process of therapy and its connection to burnout. The number of therapy sessions (if any) that the therapists had attended, or the focus of their previous therapists had little bearing on the burnout levels of individual therapists. It was understandable to expect therapy to relieve some amount of stress associated with therapeutic practice since therapy was supposed to assist individuals in dealing with stressors and personal problems.
On the contrary, there was no difference between those who attended therapy and those who did not attend therapy in regards to burnout. However, since the study did not assess whether the respondents were undergoing therapy at the time of the study, it was impossible to determine any significant variance between therapists who were attending therapy at the time of the study and therapists with past attendance experience.
Future studies in this area should also investigate the reasons why the therapists seek therapy. The reasons for seeking therapy can have significant implications on the link between individual counselling attendance and burnout. A therapist who is currently attending therapy may have a higher burnout level than a person who attended therapy in the past because the problem that the therapist seeks to deal with is still existent. Despite the absence of an extensive literature or empirical studies supporting the significance of personal therapy in the therapeutic process, previous studies have discovered that most professional counselors feel that their personal counseling has positive effects on their professional output (Kottler, 2010).
The findings concerning the relationship between demographic variables such as the age of a therapist and the number of years a therapist had been practicing typified the findings of previous studies (Baird & Jenkins, 2003; Rupert& Morgan, 2005). The study indicated that young therapists with little experience displayed more levels of burnout that their older, experienced counterparts.
One possible explanation for that development was that young therapists who had little experience in the practice possessed limited control over their work environment and were, therefore, more aggravated by their working conditions. Moreover, younger, inexperienced therapists had limited control of the varieties of clients that they treated, unlike established therapists who possessed more liberty to choose the type clients that they met. For instance, an experienced therapist might have chosen to focus on treating patients who were able to pay out-of-pocket.
The low burnout levels among older therapists could also be associated with a natural weeding process, in which therapists who had undergone burnout chose to quit the profession. Those who were left in therapy practice were, therefore, more resistant to burnout than inexperienced therapists. Another explanation for the decreasing burnout levels as therapists grew in experience was that more experienced therapists acquired means of dealing with challenges that accompanied clinical practice.
The findings of this study indicated a little direct link between age (and experience) and a burnout. The hypotheses of the study were investigated for a linear association between demographic variables and burnout. However, contrary to the way the study depicted the relationship, it might not have been necessarily linear.
There were a few limitations raised during the study. The primary area of concern was that, though the Counselor Burnout Inventory (CBI) seemed to portray a considerable level of quantitative face validity as well as strong psychometric characteristics, it was a technique of computation that was not as widely applied as the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI).
The MBI is a tool that is widely applied in academic research, which implements Maslach’s three-dimensional paradigm in assessing burnout levels. Maslach’s model factors in inefficacy, exhaustion and cynicism as components of job-related burnout, and is widely accepted. Though the CBI is specially designed to be used on counselors, it is not as applied as the MBI. This may affect the validity of the results of the study.
Another limitation of the study concerned the representative sample used during the study. The sample comprised mainly of therapists of the white race with little representation from other racial communities. The fact that a considerable number of respondents who participated at the beginning of the study did not complete all the items that were asked also raised questions of bias.
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The fact that the study found a strong link between psychologist burnout and interpersonal problems showed the significance of self-care among psychologists so as to enhance their therapy effectiveness. More studies are still necessary to clearly delineate the connection between interpersonal problems and burnout, especially in clarifying whether interpersonal problems precede or follow therapist burnout.
Studies can also be carried out to assess the levels of burnout among therapists before they commence practicing and during their practice to monitor the pattern of change in interpersonal problems. A burned out therapist lacks motivation and care towards his work and clients. The work becomes meaningless while the therapist becomes emotionally exhausted and non-responsive. It is important to identify burnout early so that it can be treated and eliminated.
Baird, S., & Jenkins, S. R. (2003). Vicarious traumatization, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout in sexual assault and domestic violence agency staff. Violence and Victims, 18(1), 71-86.
Hersoug, A. G., Høglend, P., Monsen, J. T., & Havik, O. E., (2001). Quality of working alliance in psychotherapy: Therapist variables and patient/therapist similarity as predictors. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 10, 205-216.
Kottler, A. J., (2010). On being a therapist. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Rupert, P. A., & Kent, J. S. (2007). Gender and work setting differences in career-sustaining behaviors and burnout among professional psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(1), 88-96.