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Burnout in Mental Health Professionals

Burnout is an occupational condition that has physical and emotional consequences for an individual. But these consequences affect more than the particular individual. For psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals, this condition can adversely affect their patients and their treatment.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a brief addressing burnout in mental health professionals. It states in this publication that an estimated 50% of mental health care providers report feeling burnt out due to:

  • High levels of stress

  • Low salaries

  • Perceived lack of career advancement opportunities

  • Increased caseloads


“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

- Rachel Naomi Remen


To understand burnout as it relates to mental health professionals, we need to know how it’s defined and what causes it.

Burnout has 3 dimensions

1. Emotional Exhaustion

  • Exposure to the emotional stress and trauma of others

2. Depersonalization or Cynicism

  • A detached or dehumanized attitude towards clients, as they are seen as a source of stress and anxiety

3. Feelings of Inefficacy

  • A decline in professional self-esteem and negative self-evaluation of their work performance

Burnout also has 6 key drivers

1. Workload

  • Unmanageable workload or time pressure

2. Control

  • Lack of influence over work environment and resources

3. Reward

  • Insufficient or inconsistent recognition

4. Community

  • Lack of support among coworkers

5. Fairness

  • Inequitable procedures or policies

6. Values

  • Dissonance between personal and organizational values

Mental health care providers often have little time for breaks between appointments and are unable to emotionally refuel after client sessions. This can lead to empathy fatigue and emotional exhaustion.

Some signs and symptoms of burnout include:

  • Changes in mood (such as lack of motivation, anger, anxiety, hopelessness and irritability)

  • Lack of concentration and forgetfulness

  • Problems sleeping

  • Procrastination

  • Physical changes (such as loss of appetite and headaches)

  • Withdrawal from relationships and responsibilities

If these symptoms seem familiar, it’s time for an intervention. Prevention is the focus if none or a few of these symptoms are present.

Prevention and intervention

First, know and respect your limitations as a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health practitioner.

Next, practice self-care regularly. You need to be your best self to help others successfully.

Finally, don’t let your ego get in the way of asking for help. Find social support and seek professional guidance from a fellow mental health professional.

In terms of organizational intervention, research shows these actions have considerable promise for reducing mental health professionals' burnout. This requires identifying the areas that need improvement, creating a plan to address these areas and implementing the solutions.

It’s important to note that some factors of burnout, such as workload, may seem to be about only caseload, but other aspects may be involved that stem from more extensive professional requirements, such as the paperwork necessary for insurance reimbursement.

Mental health professionals are capable of assessing what needs to change in their work life. The challenge is to take their own advice gracefully.

Help Therapy strives to support mental health professionals with their administrative burdens so they can focus on taking care of both their patients and themselves.


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