Burnout in female counsellor/therapists of the NCS

Egan, Jonathan B.

Medicine; Psychology
November 2006

Thesis or dissertation

© 2006 Jonathan B Egan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

A series of three studies was conducted to investigate burnout in counsellor/therapists working with the National Counselling Service (NSC) in Ireland. The NCS was established specifically to meet the needs of adult survivors of institutional abuse. and providing a service for such clients may be very challenging. In Study I, which included 26 NCS counsellor/therapists over a period of a year, mean levels of depersonalisation, but not emotional exhaustion or personal accomplishment, increased significantly. Only 12% were in the high or clinical range for depersonalisation on the Maslach Burnout Inventory at Time 1, but 34.6% were in the high range a year later at Time II. There was a significant increase over a one year period in the number of therapists reporting that work was having a negative effect on their personal lives. The most stressful aspects of therapeutic work were the content of therapy sessions; feeling isolated and lacking support; and working with highly traumatized clients. The main negative effects of therapeutic work on therapists' lives were emotional exhaustion, sadness, and mood spillover. The main positive effects were admiring the resilience of clients and developing increased humility. In Study II, which involved 35 NCS counsellor/therapists, the impact of therapist, client, organisational, and extra-organisational factors on burnout was examined. The use of image distorting defenses was found to be associated with emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. The percentage of cases improved was also negatively correlated with depersonalisation. On the positive side, therapist empathy for clients was associated with increased experience of personal accomplishment. Study III was a qualitative focus group investigation involving 8 NCS therapist/counsellors. A thematic content analysis identified three factors associated with spillover. These were the stigma associated to working with survivors of child abuse/neglect; the power of a client's narrative; and challenges to the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. Three themes were identified concerning methods for managing spillover. These were separating from a client; developing and using personal energy renewal routines; and channelling of work intrusions when at home. Implications for the results of the series of three studies for an ecological model of therapist burnout, and for NCS therapist/counsellor support and supervision were discussed.

Postgraduate Medical Institute, The University of Hull
Carr, Alan, 1957-
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