Burnout in Mental Health Counselors: Can Mindfulness Improve Well Being? Heather Payne
Research and Program Evaluation
Dr. Dale Coovert
December 14, 2010
Because mental health counselors are susceptible to burnout, which may negatively affect their clients, it is ethically imperative that they practice self-care. There is a growing body of research supporting the positive effects of mindfulness in facilitating counselor effectiveness, but little is known about the link between the practice of mindfulness and the rate of counselor burnout. The research proposal discussed in this article seeks to examine the link between mindfulness and counselors’ ability to practice effectively without experiencing burnout.
Burnout in Mental Health Counselors: Can Mindfulness Improve Well Being?
According to the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics, mental health counselors have a responsibility to do no harm, benefit others, and pursue excellence in their profession (2005). Because of the nature of their work, mental health professionals are vulnerable to vicarious trauma, substance abuse, relationship difficulties, and depression. To adhere to their ethical principles, mental health counselors need to practice self-care to decrease the potential for impairment or burnout (Richards, Campenni, & Muse-Burke, 2010). There is evidence to support a direct correlation between the practice of mindfulness and personal well-being, but there is no research on the link between practicing mindfulness and decreased rates of burnout.
There are two key components to mindfulness. First is a focused attention on the present moment, or a heightened state of awareness. Second, mindfulness involves non-judgmental acceptance of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions (Baer, 2003). Effective counseling demands that counselors be highly self-aware and non-judgmental. The practice of mindfulness may be a valuable tool to assist counselors in providing effective service to their clients as well as meeting their personal needs for self-care (Baer, 2003).
The practice of mindfulness has successfully treated physical illnesses in the form of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR). Since the stress of counseling individuals with serious life issues can lead to physical and psychological issues in counselors, it would seem that counselors who practice mindfulness might have lower burnout rates than their colleagues.
In an article from the International Journal of Stress Management (2005), Shapiro, Astin, Bishop and Cordova note that stress negatively affects health care professionals causing increased depression, decreased job satisfaction, and psychological distress (p.164). To address the problem, the authors examined the effects of a short-term mindfulness based stress reduction program (MBSR) on a group of health care professionals. The pilot study
suggested that an eight week MBSR intervention might be effective for reducing stress and improving quality of life and self-care in health care professionals (Shapiro, et.al, 2005).
Beside the impact on job satisfaction, depression, and psychological distress, stress may result in disrupted personal relationships, suicidal ideation or attempts, and an increased rate of burnout. Burnout, first recognized over a decade ago, is defined as a syndrome of depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and a sense of personal failure. It is associated with suboptimal levels of patient care (Shapiro, et.al, 2005). Despite calls advocating better care for care giving professionals, dissatisfaction and depression continue to increase.
Attempting to address the need for better self-care, the authors offered the MBSR intervention to a group of health care professionals. MBSR is an educationally based cost effective stress reduction program developed in 1982 by Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the...
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