Managing Burnout as a Counselor

| Staff Writers

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The most fulfilling careers often feel like the most emotionally and mentally draining, a maxim that applies to counseling, a field increasingly linked to staff burnout.

Counselors work in high-stress environments supporting clients. They may work with individuals battling addiction or mental health issues. Others work in schools, helping students and their families resolve academic or behavioral issues.

Studies show that therapist burnout stems from chronic stress, leading to often overlooked symptoms including fatigue, frustration, and emotional exhaustion. According to research, burnout can lead to reduced productivity, chronic absenteeism, and depersonalization that negatively impacts clients and coworkers.

On this page, learn how to spot the signs of counselor burnout and get tips from our experts on how to manage on-the-job stressors.

Tips on Preventing and Managing Burnout as a Counselor

High-stress fields such as counseling commonly cause chronic stress that can lead to therapist burnout. Counselors work in emotionally charged and demanding environments including schools, hospitals, and mental health clinics.

With proper prevention and management strategies, counselors can mitigate stress. The key to avoiding counselor burnout: pay attention to the signs and take care of yourself. Learn more from these 10 tips from our counseling experts.

1. Look For Red Flags

Melissa Wesner, a licensed clinical professional counselor, encourages individuals to know the warning signs of burnout. Signs of chronic stress include negative feelings about mental health clients, fatigue, frustration, or a feeling of dread at the beginning of the workday. “Whatever message your body is sending you, make sure to listen to it and respond appropriately,” Wesner advises.

2. ‘Practice What You Teach’

Counselors often tell their clients to take care of themselves by eating right, sleeping, and getting exercise. Counselors should take extra care to heed this advice. As Wesner points out, “making sure that our basic needs are met allows us to be rested, energized, focused, and emotionally steady.”

3. Take a Mental Health Day

Like any professional, counselors often benefit from taking a mental health day, especially considering the current events of 2020. “Taking a day off of emails, Zoom meetings, and projects in order to decompress and reconnect with your body is necessary for that continued success people are looking for,” says Kelly Keck, a licensed mental health counselor.

4. Stick to Structure

It can be easy for counselors to work overtime. However, sticking to a firm schedule helps prevent counselor burnout. If you need the morning to yourself, like Karen R. Koenig, a licensed psychotherapist, only schedule appointments after your established start time for the day. “I do this to protect myself and set an example for them [clients] of self-care,” she says.

5. Create boundaries

Do not bring your work home. Leave paperwork, stress, and emotional baggage at work. Process your day before clocking out or take a moment at home for yourself.

Julie Hartsock, a licensed professional counselor, says “it’s very easy to bring work home with you… Establish strict boundaries to maintain a healthy balance.”

6. Ask For Help

You cannot get help unless you let others know that you need it. “I repeat, reach out for support,” Hartsock emphasizes. Realize when you have hit your limits as a counselor and ask for help, whether you need to reach out to coworkers, supervisors, or your family.

7. Realize Your Limits

Counselors can provide tools for their clients to better their lives, but they cannot do the hard work for them. “Much of the burnout I’ve seen is because social workers try too hard to fix their clients. Remember that you’re there to help them fix themselves,” advises Koenig.

8. Have Fun

Counselors can feel proud of their work without having it consume their entire lives. Have a social life outside of the office to prevent counselor burnout. Do activities you enjoy such as hiking, meditation, or cooking. Nourishing personal relationships and having fun in your off time enables you to continue doing your best at work.

Contributors

Melissa Wesner, LCPC (MD)/LCMHC (NH)

Melissa Wesner, LCPC (MD)/LCMHC (NH)

Melissa Wesner is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and owner of LifeSpring Counseling Services, a group practice in Towson, MD.

Kelly Keck, LMHC

Kelly Keck, LMHC

Kelly Keck is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor practicing in New York City. Keck is trained in CBT, DBT, and EMDR therapeutic approaches and specializes in depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Julie Hartsock: MS, NCC, LPC, BC-TMH

Julie Hartsock: MS, NCC, LPC, BC-TMH

Julie Hartsock is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of A Better You Counseling & Wellness in Hanover, PA. Hartsock has worked in various counseling settings and has experienced burnout in almost all of them.

Karen R Koenig M.Ed., LCSW

Karen R Koenig M.Ed., LCSW

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., is a licensed psychotherapist, motivational speaker, and international author who has specialized in the field of compulsive, emotional, and restrictive eating for more than 30 years. She received a BA from Boston University, an M.Ed. from Antioch College and an MSW from Simmons College School of Social Work. She lives, teaches, and practices in Sarasota, Florida.

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