Burnout has been studied by many and has been diagnosed in a variety of workers throughout the nation. If you aspire to be a mental health professional you should be aware of the possible symptoms and causes of burnout so that you are able to identify this condition in yourself. In this article, the causes, definitions, and prevention of burnout will be discussed.
There are three dimensions of burnout according to Maslach & Jackson (1986). Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and deindividuation of clients, and lack of personal accomplishments are often reactions of workers who are experiencing burnout or chronic stress. Pines & Maslach (1978, p. 224) states that burnout is a “syndrome of physical and emotional exhaustion involving the development of negative self concept, negative job attitudes, and loss of concern and feelings for clients.” If a mental health professional have these reactions, they may develop captious and antagonistic sentiments toward clients and may not be as ancillary as needed.
Reseachers have described a variety of physical and emotional symptoms indicial of burnout . Some common symptoms of burnout include psychosomatic illness, social withdrawal, substance abuse, and deterioration of family and social relationships (Freudenberger, 1975; Maslach & Jackson, 1986). Self awareness is vital in the mental health field. Being conscious of one’s own emotions, values, opinions, and behavior are instrumental for optimal effectiveness as a mental health professional. A mental health professional must take an in-depth look at themselves in relation to their psychological well being. Understanding one’s own psychological processes and dynamics as it relates to stress can help one guide others through their processes. If mental health professionals learn to deal with all their issues, they have a better chance of helping a client deal with them.
Negative emotional and behavioral reactions on the job occur in many professions. Mental Health professionals are prone to burnout as a result of conflicts between a quixotic professional mystique and the harsh realities of working in the mental health field. In addition, most mental health workers find it emotionally taxing when clients aren’t receptive to them, when they must deal with insipid bureaucratic exercises on a day to day basis, when they receive little positive feedback from authoritative figures or when they receive less than favorable wages to compensate them for the time, energy, and work that is required of their position. Also, lack of company support, poor relations among colleagues, lack of competence, and a perception that success is unlikely on the job are other general causes of burnout within the mental health profession (Clarke, 2000). Mental health workers may be more susceptible to burnout because they are faced with human tragedies such as human brokenness, self mutilation, and death. Services are often rendered in a hostile world or darkness and unpredictable dangers. These professionals are at high risk for developing burnout from exposure to critical incidents.
Several conditions may help prevent burnout and increase positive emotional reactions among mental health workers. According to Kruger, Bernstein, and Botman (1995), having fun with team members, work discussions, peer cohesion, and social support, in which assistance is directed toward the helping professional cope with stressful situations, combine to reduce symptoms of burnout. Often factors that may reduce burnout include workers feeling that they have some control over their time at work, some control over their workload, and an ability to organize their own work. Recognition of quality of care is also helpful in reducing burnout, as is clarity over one’s role at work.
The fact that burnout exist in so many mental health professionals indicates a need for a strategy to reduce or prevent burnout within this field. Maintaining ongoing communication with coworkers, friends, and family members is essential in managing burnout. It is this hope that will allow mental health professionals to stay on the job at peak effectiveness.
Clarke, R. D. (2000). Burned down to the wick? Black Enterprise 31.
Freudenberger, H. J. (1975). The staff burnout syndrome in alternative institutions. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice12:73-82.
Kruger, L. J., Bernstein, G., & Botman, H. (1995). The relationship between team and friendships and burnout among residential counselors. Journal of Social Psychology 135:191.
Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1986). Maslach burnout inventory: Manual, 2d ed. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Pines, A., Maslach, C. (1978). Characteristics of staff burnout in mental health settings. Hospital and Community Psychiatry 29:223-233.