Using Music Therapy Techniques to Treat Teacher Burnout. (Research)

By Cheek, James R.; Bradley, Loretta J. et al. | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Using Music Therapy Techniques to Treat Teacher Burnout. (Research)


Cheek, James R., Bradley, Loretta J., Parr, Gerald, Lan, William, Journal of Mental Health Counseling


This study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of music therapy techniques as an intervention for teacher burnout. Of the 51 elementary school teachers who participated in the study, 25 were from a school undergoing comprehensive reform, and 26 were from a school employing traditional grade-level classrooms and teaching strategies. Each participant completed pretest and posttest instruments. In addition, there were two treatment groups, either cognitive behavioral/music therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. Results of the study indicated that teachers who participated in school-based counseling groups, using music therapy techniques in conjunction with cognitive behavioral interventions, reported lower levels of burnout symptoms than teachers in school-based counseling groups using cognitive behavioral interventions only. Implications for mental health counseling are discussed.

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Based on several international studies, approximately 60% to 70% of all teachers repeatedly show symptoms of stress, and a minimum of 30% of all educators show distinct symptoms of burnout (Antoniou, Polychroni, & Walters, 2000; Borg & Falzon, 1989; Capel, 1992; Kyriacou, 1980; Kytaev-Smyk, 1983; Lale, 2001; Rudow, 1999). In fact, Lumsden (1998) found that teacher morale overall was so low that 40% of teachers surveyed would not select teaching again as a career, and 57% were either undecided about leaving teaching, actively planning to leave teaching, or would leave the teaching field if something better came along.

Stress and burnout not only influence teachers' professional lives, but also impact their mental and physical well-being. In a study conducted in the Netherlands, 53% of work-incapacitated teachers left their profession because they suffered from mental health problems (Algemeen burgerlijk pensioenfonds, 1995). Further, recent studies (Lale, 2001; Posen, 1995) found that many individuals who experienced chronic stress often developed physical symptoms including abdominal cramps and nausea, migraine headaches, and heart palpitations.

Additionally, the achievement of educational goals and overall learning is impacted by teacher stress and burnout. As teachers experience more stress and burnout, there are escalating feelings of detachment, alienation, cynicism, and apathy. As these feelings intensify, there is increased absenteeism and, ultimately, many teachers decide to leave the field (Antoniou et al., 2000; Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986; Farber, 1991, 1999; Jenkins & Calhoun, 1991; Rudow, 1999; Wiley, 2000).

In choosing a career, individuals usually enter the field of education to motivate and help children grow, to make a difference in their lives, to be challenged, and to gain a sense of accomplishment by working at something worthwhile (Farber, 1999, 2000; Gold & Roth, 1993; Haberman, 2000; McEnany, 1986). To these individuals, teaching is a noble profession, and it is their vision to make a contribution to children, the community, and to society overall (Haberman). Too often, they "encounter reality shock when the stark contrast between expectations and life in the classroom is realized, leading to severe disillusionment, which, in effect, is burnout" (Gold & Roth, p. 13).

Although school reform is intended to revive schools and education, the reform movement has not been successful; the lack of attention to the needs and concerns of the facilitator of the teaching-learning process has not been addressed, much less made a priority (Gold & Roth, 1993; Smylie, 1999). According to Miller (1999), massive school reform means that teachers are not only reinventing their school; they are required to reinvent themselves as well. Due to these immense educational reforms, the culture of the teacher changes and a new professionalism emerges (Hargreaves, 1994). While the reforms are most likely positive, the overall and lasting impact on the teaching population is as yet unknown. …

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