The purpose of this article is to report the findings of a national survey study of school counseling professionals to determine if higher ego development contributes to a lower degree of burnout. Additionally, this article provides current data relating to professional school counselors' (PSCs') levels of ego development, burnout, and burnout's three respective dimensions (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment). In addition, PSCs' feelings concerning the amount of occupational support they receive relative to these three dimensions of burnout are reported.
PSCs experience high levels of stress because of multiple job demands, role ambiguity, large caseloads, and lack of clinical supervision (Lambie, 2002). Prolonged periods of stress, in turn, can produce burnout, leading to deterioration in the quality of service provided (Lambie, 2006; Maslach, 2003; Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Thus, counselor burnout appears to correlate with counselors' negative attitudes toward their clients (Ackerley, Burnell, Holder, & Kurdek, 1988). Clearly, the potential consequences of burnout are very serious for PSCs, students, peers, parents/guardians, and the school system at large (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996).
Failure to address burnout in counselor preparation programs is similar to not addressing other ethical counseling issues, such as client suicide, violence, and abuse. All are costly to clients, counselors, and society, both in human and in financial terms. Counselor educators are in the position of teaching prospective counselors about burnout prior to their encountering the multiple stresses of the job. Indeed, counselor preparation programs and clinical supervisors have an ethical responsibility to inform counseling students and practicing clinicians about the burnout phenomenon and to work with students/supervisees to help them develop effective coping skills to manage the occupational stress inherent in counseling.
Self-awareness and adaptivity are defenses against burnout, and ego development is an essential component in the development of an adaptive, self-aware counselor. For example, research has shown that counselors at more mature levels of ego functioning are better able to recognize that others may differ in their interpretations of interpersonal and social situations, while showing significantly higher levels of empathy (Carlozzi, Gaa, & Liberman, 1983). Additionally, counselors with higher ego levels are cognitively more capable of conceptualizing the complexity of situations and tend to use a reality-orientated coping style rather than a reality-distorting defense mechanism (Manners & Durkin, 2000). As a result, they accommodate to challenging experiences more easily, thereby reducing possible burnout.
Counselor preparation programs and clinical supervisors can help promote ego development in their students/supervisees, thereby improving their cognitive and socioemotional coping abilities and better equipping them with the necessary qualities to cope with occupational stress. Specifically, research suggests that counselor educators can work to promote ego development of counseling students by structuring the educational environment to be one level higher than the student's current level of functioning (Manners & Durkin, 2002; Turiel, 1966). Attention to promoting psychological development and burnout prevention should be continuous throughout the counselor preparation program, beginning with introductory course work and continuing in practicum and internship experiences.
* Ego Development
Loevinger's (1976) developmental theory defines ego as the core component of one's personality, incorporating elements of cognitive, self, interpersonal, character, and moral development. The ego develops toward increasingly more sophisticated levels of meaning making, mastery, and integration. Ego development is a progressive differentiation between "subject" and "object," that is, the aspect of self one controls and the aspects one is controlled by (Blasi, 1998; Kegan, Lahey, & Souvaine, 1998). This is not a smooth, continuous process from less to more mature levels; rather, it includes major identifiable structural changes in one's self-definition marked by increased levels of differentiation and integrative views of self, others, and the world. Maturation, socialization experiences, education, and life experiences all contribute to increasing one's capacity to control impulses and increase the ability for self-evaluation, self-awareness, and reflection (Muuss, 1996). The five developmental issues embedded in the ego construct are (a) individuality, (b) self-awareness, (c) complexity, (d) wholeness, and (e) autonomy (Noam, 1993).
Loevinger's (1976) ego stages are equilibrated structures that follow an invariant sequence containing eight levels that are arranged in hierarchical order from immature to mature as follows: (a) impulsive (E2; the person functions based on physical needs and impulses, while being dependent on others for control), (b) self-protective (E3; the person is opportunistic and adheres to traditions and rituals), (c) conformist (E4; the person accepts rules just because they are rules with absolutist thought and focuses energy on being socially accepted), (d) self-aware (E5; the person increases self-awareness and is cognizant of others' individuality, while being able to recognize multiple perspectives), (e) conscientious (E6; the person becomes self-evaluative and reflective, while recognizing multiple possibilities and a sense of choice, and is likely to think beyond his or her own concerns), (f) individualistic (E7; the person has a sense of individuality and a greater tolerance of difference, while having increased awareness of his or her own incongruence), (g) autonomous (E8; the person has a deep respect for other people's choices and need for autonomy and has a high tolerance for ambiguity), and (h) integrated (E9; the person has become congruent and self-actualized, a level only a few people ever reach [Hy & Loevinger, 1996; Loevinger, 1987; Manners & Durkin, 2000]). Therefore, counselors at more mature ego levels should be better able to maintain self-care and reduce burnout.
The number of counselors in schools and community mental health agencies who experience a moderate to high degree of burnout is pervasive (Kottler & Hazler, 1996; Maslach et al., 2001; Sheffield, 1999; Skaggs, 1999). Findings from national survey studies of counseling professionals within human service settings estimate the incidence of burnout to be about 39% (Ackerley et al., 1988; Fishbach & Tidwell, 1994; Golembiewski & Munzenrider, 1988). Although counselors may receive training to help individuals with severe presenting problems, they receive little or no training in how to deal with their own stress (Emerson & Markos, 1996). One of the founders of counseling, Carl Rogers (1995), at age 75, wrote of himself, "I have always been better at caring for and looking after others than I have been at caring for myself. But in these later years, I have made progress" (p. 80).
Burnout has been defined as a condition "of physical and emotional exhaustion, involving the development of negative self-concept, negative job attitude, and loss of concern and feeling for clients" (Pines & Maslach, 1978, p. 234). Affecting all facets of a counselor's life, burnout can be described through its physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms brought on by involvement over a prolonged period with emotionally demanding situations and people (Emerson & Markos, 1996; Feldstein, 2000; Pines & Aronson, 1988). Physical symptoms of burnout manifest as low energy, chronic fatigue, sleep difficulties, headaches, colds, and physical weakness. Cognitive symptoms range from stereotyping and depersonalization to cynicism and negative attitudes toward clients, work, and self. Emotional symptoms include feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, and entrapment. Behavioral symptoms are seen in absenteeism, aggression, changing jobs, substance abuse, and leaving one's profession. In addition, Grosch and Olsen (1994) identified symptoms of burnout related to the spiritual dimensions of life, which include loss of faith; loss of meaning and purpose; feelings of alienation and estrangement; despair; and changes in values, religious beliefs, and religious affiliation.
Although burnout reduces the quality of care counselors provide to their clients (Maslach, 2003; Maslach et al., 1996; Maslach et al., 2001; Sheffield, 1999), only a limited number of studies have addressed PSC burnout. In a study of the relationship between burnout and role congruence among high school counselors in Kansas (Kim, 1993), participating counselors scored at moderate levels of emotional exhaustion, low levels of depersonalization, and high levels of personal accomplishment, and a significant positive relationship was established between counselor role congruence and burnout. Stickel (1991) studied the relationship between job satisfaction and burnout among 147 PSCs in three rural states. The counselors exhibited moderate levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization but at the same time indicated high levels of personal accomplishment, a marker of a low degree of burnout. The findings also suggested that the number of students on counselors' caseloads (M = 280 students) correlated with the level of emotional exhaustion, whereby greater numbers of students indicated higher burnout scores. In an investigation of the relationship between supervision and burnout in 217 PSCs in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Feldstein (2000) found that clinical supervision had a positive influence on reducing levels of emotional exhaustion and burnout in school counselors. All of these studies examined the relationship between PSCs' occupational qualities and burnout. Stressors such as role incongruence and larger caseloads correlated with higher burnout, whereas support in the form of supervision related to lower levels of burnout. Presently, no studies have investigated PSCs' personality characteristics as they relate to burnout.
The present study examined current levels of burnout in school counseling professionals. The findings may support the need for modification of PSC preparation. More specifically, the four research questions investigated were (a) What is the degree of burnout of a national sample of school counseling professionals? (b) What is the level of ego development of a national sample of school counseling professionals? (c) Do higher levels of ego development contribute to a lower degree of burnout? and (d) What is the relationship between the demographic variable of occupational support and burnout?
The accessible population was 550 school counseling professionals holding membership in the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Members were mailed survey packets containing a general demographic questionnaire, the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (WUSCT Form 81; Hy & Loevinger, 1996), and the Maslach Burnout Inventory--Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS; Maslach & Jackson, 1996). Of the 550 mailed packets, 225 were returned, yielding a return rate of 40.9%. A total of 218 (39.6%) school counseling professionals completed all of the survey instruments.
Three data collection instruments were used as a means of capturing the data necessary to test the hypothesis underlying this study.
General demographic questionnaire. A one-page survey, developed by the author of the present article, solicited respondents' general information pertaining to age, gender, race, highest academic degree attained, number of years as a PSC, and current position. Additionally, a 7-point Likert scale was used to assess the level of occupational support in respondents' work environment.
WUSCT Form 81. The WUSCT Form 81 is a semiprojective inventory consisting of 36 sentence stems relating to one of Loevinger's (1976) levels of ego maturity. Each response is rated as a whole by its level of meaning or what the person is saying and is not conceptualized in relation to the other responses (Hy & Loevinger, 1996). A total protocol rating is then calculated using an algorithm reflecting the respondent's assessed place on Loevinger's (1976) ego maturity scheme as described earlier. The original validation study of the WUSCT Form 81 has an alpha coefficient of .91, and a test-retest correlation of .91 was found with college students (Williamson & Vincent, 1985). Numerous additional studies have indicated that the WUSCT Form 81 is a reliable and valid measure of ego development, and the extensive research using the WUSCT Form 81 as a measure of ego development offers substantial confirmation of its strength as a psychometric assessment of personality (Blumentritt, Novy, Gaa, & Liberman, 1996; Hauser, 1993). For the current study, three trained raters achieved high interrater reliabilities, ranging between .85 and .90.
MBI-HSS. Established as the leading instrument in the field of burnout research (Maslach et al., 1996; Skaggs, 1999), the MBI-HSS consists of 22 statements about job-related feelings connected to the three subscales measuring emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of a sense of personal accomplishment. The Emotional Exhaustion subscale measures feelings of being emotionally drained: As emotional energies are depleted, people are no longer able to give of themselves. The Depersonalization subscale assesses the development of negative, cynical attitudes and feelings toward the people with whom one works. The third subscale, Personal Accomplishment, measures one's level or sense of competence and success in working with people: When people feel they are no longer accomplishing what they want or making a meaningful contribution through their work, they evaluate themselves negatively (Ackerley et al., 1988; Maslach et al., 1996; Maslach et al., 2001; Raquepaw & Miller, 1989). The reliability coefficients for the three subscales of the MBI-HSS are as follows: .90 for Emotional Exhaustion, .79 for Depersonalization, and .71 for Personal Accomplishment. The convergent and discriminant validity of the MBI-HSS has been demonstrated in numerous studies (Maslach et al., 1996; Maslach et al., 2001).
To answer the question if scoring at higher levels of ego development contributes to a lower degree of burnout, path analysis was applied. Path analysis has the advantage over regression analysis of testing theoretical constructs in a causal framework using correlational data (Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996). Furthermore, path analysis enables an examination of the direct and indirect effects one variable has on another (Asher, 1983). Therefore, it supports a more explicit causal approach to understanding the investigated phenomenon, while providing an indication of the strength of theoretical constructs. In path analysis, theoretical constructs are displayed in a formal and explicit model that is presented both in narrative and a path diagram forms (Klem, 1998). Simultaneous linear multiple regression and Pearson product-moment correlations (two-tailed) were used to investigate the relationship between the demographic variable of occupational support and the dependent variables of ego development, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of personal accomplishment.
Descriptive data and measures of central tendency indicated that the mean age of the 225 respondents was 39.26 years (SD = 10.57; range = 25-65 years). Men were less represented than women: There were 24 men (10.7%) compared with 201 women (89.3%). Participants included 15 African Americans (6.7%), 9 Latino Americans (4.0%), 1 Native American (0.4%), and 197 European Americans (87.6%). Additionally, 3 respondents categorized themselves as "other" (1.3%). Highest academic degrees attained ranged from a bachelor's degree to a doctorate, with 30 bachelor's degrees (13.3%), 160 master's degrees (71.1%), 24 specialist degrees (10.7%), and 11 doctorates (4.9%). The mean years of experience of the 225 respondents was 4.92 years (SD = 6.42; range = 0-34 years).
Burnout scores were obtained using the three MBI-HSS subscales of Emotional Exhaustion, Depersonalization, and Personal Accomplishment. The mean Emotional Exhaustion score for all respondents was 17.38 (SD = 9.22; range = 0-40), with a score of 17 to 26 indicating a moderate level of emotional exhaustion. The mean Depersonalization score was 3.74 (SD = 3.75; range = 0-18), with a score of 0 to 6 indicating a low level of depersonalization. The mean Personal Accomplishment score was 41.93 (SD = 4.67; range = 26-48), with a score of 39 to 48 indicating a high level of personal accomplishment.
The WUSCT Form 81 was used to obtain participants' ego development scores. The ego levels of the school counseling professionals who completed the WUSCT Form 81 assessment (n = 221) were as follows: conformist (E4), self-aware (E5), conscientious (E6), and individualistic (E7). The largest number of respondents scored at the self-aware (E5; n = 121, or 54.8%) level, followed by the conscientious (E6; n = 72, or 32.6%), conformist (E4; n = 17, or 7.7%), and individualistic (E7; n = 11, or 4.9%) levels. The mean WUSCT Form 81 score was 5.35 (SD = 0.69; range = E4-E7); both the median and modal scores represented the self-aware (E5) level.
The path analysis model testing if higher levels of ego development in school counseling professionals contributed to lower levels of burnout appears in Figure 1 with its path coefficients and parameter estimates. The fit indices for the path diagram revealed that the model did not fit the data according to conventional standards, [chi square](7, 218) = 12,279.089,p < .001; goodness-of-fit index (GFI) = .058; adjusted goodness-of-fit index (AGFI) = -.345; comparative fix index (CFI) = .000; root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) = 2.842; and Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) = -82.315. Therefore, no causal relationship between higher levels of ego development and reduced burnout was identified.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
To substantiate these results, a subsequent analysis was conducted testing the theoretical construct of burnout using the path analysis model presented in Figure 2. This analysis is a form of confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). CFA is typically used to test theory, and, in this study, it was used as a data reduction procedure to determine whether the theoretical construct of burnout explained the majority of the variance for the factors of Emotional Exhaustion, Depersonalization, and Personal Accomplishment. The fit indices indicated that the model did not fit the data according to conventional standards, [chi square](4, 218) = 12,241.664, p < .001; GFI = .059; AGFI =-.412; CFI = .000; RMSEA = 3.755; and TLI = -74.212. That is, the CFA fit indices for the model did not support the three respective subscales of burnout merging into a single theoretical construct of burnout, indicating an error in the model for these data.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Simultaneous linear multiple regression and a Pearson product--moment correlation were applied to the dependent variable of ego development and the three dimensions of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment). Personal accomplishment was found to have a statistically significant (p < .05) relationship to ego development, F(3, 217) = 2.414, p = .048 ([R.sup.2] = .033, adjusted [R.sup.2] = .019). The beta weight for personal accomplishment was significant at the .023 level, while having a small effect size with a shared variance of 3.3%. The Pearson product-moment correlation (r =. 164, p = .015) supported the results that ego development and personal accomplishment are positively related, implying that PSCs with higher levels of ego maturity demonstrated a higher level of personal accomplishment than did counselors with lower levels of ego maturity.
A Pearson product--moment correlation (two-tailed) was also applied to test the relationship between the three respective dimensions of burnout and the demographic variable of occupational support. The results indicated a consistent statistically significant correlation between reported occupational support and emotional exhaustion (r = .409, p < .001), depersonalization (r = .346, p < .001), and personal accomplishment (r = -.269, p < .001). That is, as the level of reported occupational support increased, emotional exhaustion and depersonalization decreased while feelings of personal accomplishment increased, thereby reducing the degree of burnout.
A limited number of studies have investigated both PSC burnout and counselors' levels of ego functioning. However, none had the specific focus of this study. The finding that the vast majority of school counseling professionals scored at either the self-aware (E5) or conscientious (E6; n = 193, or 87.4%) level seems promising because self-aware (E5) is a level of ego functioning at which individuals possess the necessary qualities to be effective counselors (Zinn, 1995). The current findings are encouraging because PSCs with the ego development levels of self-aware (E5) and conscientious (E6) are able to meet students' needs while possessing the essential characteristics to be effective and operate at a higher level of psychological development than their students.
No published studies to date have examined the contribution of ego development to burnout, and only Gann (1979) investigated the relationship between ego level and burnout with social workers. Gann's findings indicated that social workers at higher levels of ego development scored at a lower level of depersonalization, which affects their ability to work with their clients. This incongruence with the current study may have resulted from a flaw in the theoretical model of burnout identified using the applied CFA. Therefore, the lack of support for the hypothesized theoretical model testing the contribution of ego development to burnout and its respective subscales was not surprising.
On the basis of the correlations from Gann's (1979) study and the findings of the current study, it appears that depersonalization and personal accomplishment have a relationship to ego development levels, whereas emotional exhaustion does not. Consequently, emotional exhaustion may be inherent in the helping professions and be an insufficient contributor to higher levels of burnout (Lee & Ashforth, 1993). The manner in which professionals cope with emotional fatigue (i.e., depersonalization) and how this strain affects their feelings regarding their occupation (i.e., personal accomplishment) appears to be related to higher levels of burnout and ego maturity. On the basis of these findings, it can be concluded that helping professionals at higher levels of ego development depersonalize less and maintain positive feelings toward their work. The positive relationship between personal accomplishment and ego development also seems to extend the notion that higher levels of cognitive development are more functional (Kohlberg, 1981). This fundamental assumption has been supported in the previous counseling research (Borders & Fong, 1989; McIntyre, 1985; Watt, Robinson, & Lupton-Smith, 2002). In brief, it can be concluded that PSCs at higher levels of ego development preserve boundaries and engage in self-care, which enables them to accept their occupational limitations and maintain affirmative feelings about their work.
The consistent statistically significant relationship between the three dimensions of burnout and the level of reported occupational support reinforces previous research findings that social support can serve as a buffer, enabling human service professionals to manage stressful occupational demands more effectively while minimizing burnout (Kirmeyer & Dougherty, 1988). On the basis of these findings, the level of occupational support provided to PSCs may be the most effective form of burnout prevention. More specifically, supervision is a primary mode of conveying a sense of support to counselors (Feldstein, 2000; Phillips, 1998). Davis (1984) concluded that PSC supervision is an effective method of burnout prevention, which was later corroborated by the findings of Feldstein. Therefore, PSC supervision may serve as an effective form of occupational support to combat burnout.
Limitations of the Study
Several limitations should be noted. First, there are inherent limitations in correlational survey research, including an inability to establish cause--effect relationships, difficulty achieving a high rate of response, and generalization limited to the specified accessible population (in this case, school counseling professionals holding membership in ASCA). Additionally, participants who volunteered to complete the survey packet may have significantly different characteristics than nonrespondents. In general, volunteers tend to be better educated and more intelligent, tend to have higher social class status, and are more likely to be female (Gall et al., 1996). Furthermore, professional turnover is a behavior symptom of burnout. It can be surmised that PSCs experiencing high levels of burnout may have already left the profession. Although no studies were found on PSC turnover, in a study of professional child care workers, burnout was strongly related to anticipated turnover (Lazaro, Shinn, & Robinson, 1984).
Implications for Professional School Counseling
This study's findings have several implications for professional school counseling. First, the results indicate that, in general, school counseling professionals are operating at low levels of burnout. Nevertheless, the consistent relationship found between lower levels of burnout and higher levels of self-reported occupational support merits further investigation and suggests the need for continuous occupational support, possibly in the form of counselor supervision, to prevent burnout.
With reference to ego development, the literature has documented that counselors with higher levels of ego maturity are more effective with their clients and demonstrate greater adaptivity (Borders & Fong, 1989; McIntyre, 1985; Watt et al., 2002). The finding that the modal level for the participants' ego development was at the self-aware (E5) level is consistent with the previous research and supports the difficulty in advancing beyond this level of development (Manners & Durkin, 2000). Nevertheless, the considerable number of counselors scoring above the self-aware (E5) level suggests that graduate education may support developmental growth. The supportive yet challenging experience of a graduate education environment can promote learning, self-awareness, and personal growth, which may increase one's level of ego functioning. Furthermore, the finding that the majority of school counseling professionals score at the self-aware (E5) level provides a measure of how counselor preparation programs can best meet the needs of the professionals they serve. More specifically, given that the majority of professional school counseling graduate students (n = 15, or 50%) are at the self-aware (E5) ego development level, counselor preparation programs should structure their educational environment one level higher, at the conscientious (E6) level, to promote further psychological development (Manners & Durkin, 2000; Turiel, 1966).
To summarize, this study investigated the contribution of ego development levels to degree of burnout in a national sample of school counseling professionals. The results of the statistical analyses did not support the hypothesis that higher ego development contributes to a lower degree of burnout. However, a significant positive relationship was found between ego functioning and the burnout dimension of personal accomplishment. That is, PSCs with higher levels of ego functioning scored at higher levels of personal accomplishment, thus reducing one dimension of burnout. An additional noteworthy finding was the consistent relationship found between the three subscales used to measure burnout and the level of reported occupational support, whereby school counseling professionals reporting higher occupational support scored at a lower degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and at a higher degree of personal accomplishment, indicating a lower degree of burnout. The findings of this study are encouraging in that the majority of PSCs are functioning at burnout and ego development levels that enable them to work effectively in their professional roles.
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Glenn W. Lambie, Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling, Appalachian State University. Glenn W. Lambie is now in the Department of Child, Family, and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida. This research project was supported in part by a research grant award from the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. The author thanks Charles R. McAdams III for his support and guidance with this research study and Keith M. Davis for his editorial comments. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Glenn W. Lambie, University of Central Florida, Department of Child, Family, and Community Sciences, Counselor Education Program, Orlando, FL 32816-1250 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).…