Preventing Counselor Burnout


You often hear about burnout in college students or nurses, but mental health professionals of all types are experiencing burnout at an extended pace. Helping others through their emotional and mental struggles daily invites heaviness into your life. Not only do you have a responsibility to your clients, but also your family, friends, and most importantly yourself. When your professional burden becomes too much to bear, burnout happens, and it can be complicated to deal with.

What Is Burnout?

When you have a profession that includes physical or emotional hazards, it can take its toll. The result of that excess stress is burnout. Counselors specifically internalize the negative stigma that corresponds to therapy and seeking help. Those negative associations to something you put so much work into can be exhausting.

On top of being a mental health professional offering its unique stress from society, there is the idea that therapists and counselors should have it all together. If a therapist isn’t happy and successful, how can they help someone else, right? Wrong. Counselors are helpers, but everyone needs support, rest, and breaks. Although stress is not a diagnosable disorder, it can result in mental or physical health problems without proper attention.

As a counselor, you are trained to help others cope with stress and develop methods of handling such experiences, but applying those lessons to yourself is not the same. When you think of burnout, your mind probably flashes to symptoms like fatigue or insomnia that can be cured with an island vacation, but it is not that simple.

What Leads to Burnout?

There are an endless number of causes that lead to burnout. Long-term exhaustion and repetitive behaviors are just two common sources. On top of that, a lack of support from loved ones and increased isolation can intensify burnout. Being patient and compassionate to clients who may not always appreciate your time and effort can also add to the stress you experience in your line of work. As helpers, providers tend to be incredibly passionate about their clients and their work overall. Committing time to an emotionally exhaustive job can leave you isolated, pulling you away from the support of loved ones.

Identifying Professional Burnout

Many providers may have problems identifying the signs of professional burnout. Everyone experiences this differently, so knowing what to look for can be complicated, even for someone with years of experience treating others.

Some people may find themselves withdrawing from work or becoming disengaged from things they were once passionate about. If you are working with a client but find yourself drifting or not actively listening, it could signify burnout. Others may feel overwhelmed like they cannot make a dent in their workload no matter how much time and effort they commit to it.

With counseling, professionals want to make a difference in the lives of their clients, but as burnout takes over, you can feel like you aren’t doing enough. Your work is lacking because you are drained, which only adds to those feelings of inadequacy. Experiencing burnout in the long term can lead to unethical practices. If you become cynical about your own outlook, it can be challenging to differentiate your emotional state from your clients’ and your overall view of treatment. When you lose hope in the process, it impacts your quality of care.

How to Prevent Counselor Burnout

Preventing burnout is about acknowledging the signs and seeking help. Reaching out to a supervisor or coworker allows you to be vulnerable and understand that you are not alone. It takes a lot to admit that you are not invincible and may need help. Knowing that you are in a profession where burnout is commonly recognized can help make it easier to talk to someone. Speaking about your emotional state also prevents you from further internalizing your feelings and withdrawing from your support system. 

The following methods can also help you prevent burnout:

#1. Decrease Repetitiveness

Doing the same thing over and over leads to a dull experience. As a counselor and care provider, you want to learn and grow continuously. Changing your methods or introducing new therapies and practices into your sessions could be a great way to prevent burnout. If you work alone, consider bouncing ideas off a colleague to freshen your outlook.

#2. Work Together

Burnout is not only an individual issue to address alone or with help from one or two people. It can become institutionalized. Preventing burnout is best when done on a large group scale. Working with staff to plan events like mindfulness seminars could be helpful. Offering resources and further education, relaxation apps, exercise classes, and staff meetings to discuss how everyone is feeling and what changes they’d like to see is ideal. 

#3. Ongoing Care

Preventing burnout should not be saved for vacations or time away from work. There should be a focus on the job for professionals to practice self-care too. There is no cure for burnout, so making your mental and physical wellness a priority at all times is vital.

#4. Readjust to Your Needs

Throughout a mental health professional’s career, their needs will change. What burnout was to you in your earlier career may differ once you have a family or take on more responsibilities. That means that what once worked for you may change as time goes on. Consistently taking time to focus on your needs and how you’re feeling so you can adjust to what your mind and body are telling you offers continuous aid.

Burnout is a prevalent experience in the mental health field. It is an almost paralyzing state which offers you nothing but further exhaustion and lack of effectiveness. When therapists are overworked and overwhelmed, they tend to withdraw from sessions or lack the hope they require. Understanding how common burnout is can motivate those experiencing it to seek help from colleagues and mentors. Finding ways to reduce what causes burnout, like repetitive work or withdrawal from your support system, can help you work through this overwhelming sensation before it gets out of hand. It is beneficial to work with your institution to prevent burnout with workshops and meetings that can help ensure that it isn’t an ongoing cycle. Discussing burnout and normalizing it within the field helps providers offer the best care at their best. Reach out to SokyaHealth at (877) 840-6956 for more guidance on preventing burnout as a mental health care provider.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.