Study finds widespread burnout among US college counsellors

By Leila Hawkins
The pandemic has led to exhaustion in higher education counselling centres...

A study has found there is widespread burnout among US university and college counselling centres as a result of Covid-19. 

Mantra Health, a digital healthcare provider focused on mental health, carried out research among higher education institutions in the US, and found that 91 per cent of college counselling center directors and clinicians have experienced burnout during the 2020 autumn semester due to the pandemic. 

Among the 139 respondents from counselling centers, 79 were directors and 60 were clinicians. 

Major findings include: 

  • The rate of self-reported burnout was 92 per cent among college counselling center directors and 90 per cent among clinical staff at college counselling centers
  • Within the clinician respondents, 40 per cent claimed that they would benefit from “reduced workload through expanded clinical team or outside support” 
  • More than half of directors (56 per cent) disagreed or strongly disagreed that they have enough energy after work for leisure activities 

Signs of burnout among clinicians include 40 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that they are working more hours than usual, and 45 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that their workload compromises their ability to provide quality care. 

When both groups were asked what has helped or could help alleviate burnout, the three most common themes were: 

  • Staff camaraderie and personal connections with coworkers (37 per cent) 
  • A culture of openness to acknowledge and discuss burnout (30 per cent) 
  • More vacation time or greater flexibility around vacation time (30 per cent) 

The study emphasises that mental health providers experiencing burnout are at heightened risk of developing their own mental or physical health conditions, including depression. Burnout can also lead to increased staff turnover, depersonalisation (or cynical attitudes toward work), and reduced self-efficacy. 

The study offers recommendations from David Walden, PhD Director, Counseling Center at Hamilton College and Harry Rockland-Miller, PhD Director Emeritus, Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, University of Massachusetts Amherst, to improve providers’ work satisfaction and overall well-being to prevent and decrease staff burnout. These focus on themes including togetherness, openness, boundaries, and increasing meaning. 

“The findings are concerning for our industry because as we state in the study, the impact of the subsequent burnout, isolation, and reduced capacity for self-care means that not only will we be less effective in this work, but we will likely see increased turnover and less people willing to enter into the field" Walden said. 

“We need to remind our colleagues that there is no substitute for rest when exhaustion is the problem” said Rockland-Miller. “In order to decrease burnout during this critical time for college counselling centers we must remember that wellness activities and other supports are essential, but will not be effective if people are exhausted and can’t fully participate in them. 

"A workplace characterised by mutual support and connection allows staff to move forward even with the inherent stress of this work. It is important for us to model the very boundaries we seek to encourage in the communities we treat.”


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