As the school year comes to a close it is increasingly important for all school counselors to become aware of the signs of burnout and protect themselves from it. In many districts, school counselors are responsible for high caseloads, state testing, course registration, and more. In years past, counselors reported experiencing burnout at rates reaching 67% (Kim & Lambie, 2018). Protecting yourself from burnout is an ethical decision that requires constant intentionality. According to the ASCA Ethical Standards, counselors have a responsibility to “Monitor their emotional and physical health and practice wellness to ensure optimal professional effectiveness. School counselors seek physical or mental health support when needed to ensure professional competence.” Self-evaluation is an ongoing process as moods vary daily.
Burnout looks different for everyone, but can have a devastating impact on you, your family and the students that you care about. According to Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, many people feel physical and emotional exhaustion,experience cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Cynicism in counseling is dangerous because it can potentially lead to misdiagnosing a crisis. Counselors suffering from these symptoms can become guarded at work or even isolated at home. The signs of physical exhaustion are extensive ranging from insomnia to anger and depression. Protecting against this downward spiral of pressure and negativity is difficult but of the utmost importance for everyone and it begins with setting firm boundaries.
Setting boundaries is sometimes uncomfortable but necessary in school counseling. We are compassionate and empathetic in nature and for many of us it feels easier to say yes to increased workloads and extra duties. However, multiple studies indicate that counselors are at the greatest risk for burnout when they spend excessive periods of time working on duties that are not related to school counseling (Kim & Lambie, 2018). Sometimes we have to “just say no” or leave that work sitting there until the next day. Leaving work hours after school every day takes precious time away from your friends, family, and most importantly you. When possible leave work at work and avoid emails and work conversations. Personal space and down time improve your ability to serve children when you are at school.
School Counselors need to take care of themselves mentally. Some counselors protect their mental health through meditation (try Headspace) and daily mantras. Others reported that listening to inspirational music and podcasts had an impact on their mental health. Multiple quantitative studies indicated that counselors with higher self-esteem suffered burnout at lower rates (Kim & Lambie, 2018). Encouraging self-talk and positive thoughts can redirect you and drive you out of dark mental spaces.
Physical health is equally important for school counselors. Some school counselors do this through exercise and practicing healthy eating habits. Many other counselors manage their physical well-being with massages, facials, pedicures, and other spa treatments. Maintaining your physical health is an incredible tool for refueling yourself and powering through the end of the school year. Exercise and other healthy practices can elevate your health and improve your mental well-being.
If you are uncertain if you are suffering from burnout there are many tools available. The internet has loads of free resources like the Burnout Self Test that serve as a quick unscientific self-evaluation. There are also more scientific tests available like the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Counselor Burnout Inventory. Researchers typically use these tests when evaluating the mental health of counselors. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly counselors should not feel ashamed to seek therapy if they feel their mental health declining or if they just need a place to vent.
Bourg Carter, S. (2013, November 26). The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout ... Do You Have Them? Retrieved March 11, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201311/the-tell-tale-signs-burnout-do-you-have-them
Nayoung Kim, & Lambie, G. W. (2018). Burnout and Implications for Professional School Counselors. Professional Counselor, 8(3), 277–294. https://doi.org/10.15241/nk.8.3.277