Job Stress, Coping Strategies, and Burnout among Abuse-Specific Counselors

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study is to investigate whether effective coping strategies play an important role to reduce burnout levels among sexual or substance abuse counselors. The authors examined whether coping strategies mediated or moderated relations between job stress and burnout in a sample of 232 abuse-specific counselors. Results indicated that self-distraction and behavior disengagement coping strategies mediated the relationships between 3 job stress variables (workload, role conflict, and job ambiguity) and burnout. Although venting and humor coping strategies positively moderated the relationship between role ambiguity and burnout, active coping strategies negatively moderated the relationship between workload and burnout.


Although the counseling profession can have many rewards, burnout can be a potential outcome of providing counseling and psychotherapy. Burnout is conceptualized as a psychological syndrome in response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stress on the job and is most widely defined by the dimensions of exhaustion, depersonalization, and inefficacy (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Much of the focus of burnout research has been with individuals who work in the human services field (Vredenburgh, Carlozzi, & Stein, 1999). There has been increasing recognition and study of this problem in the counselors who are working with sexual offenders and substance abuse clients. It is believed that burnout is a potential response to the emotional stress of working with others who are troubled (Everall & Paulson, 2004). Several studies (Pearlman, 1996; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995; Rich, 1997) reported that abuse-specific counselors working with sexual offenders and substance abuse clients would exhibit evidence of cognitive disruptions at levels higher than those of a criterion reference group of general mental health professionals. The impact on the counselor is believed to have direct adverse consequences to the clients they serve. Burnout may emerge in session as a loss of empathy, respect, and positive feelings for abuse-specific clients; more therapeutic gridlock; and boundary violations (Pearlman & MacIan, 1995; SkorUpa & Agresti, 1993). When the mental health professional becomes burned out, she or he may exhibit behaviors that affect the quality of care provided to clients (McCarthy & Frieze, 1999). Because the consequences of burnout can ultimately impair clients, it is clearly an issue of professional and ethical behavior to develop awareness of burnout (American Counseling Association, 2005; Everall & Paulson, 2004).

The relationships between people and work have been recognized as a catalyst for potential problems (Maslach et al., 2001). Adverse emotional and behavioral sequelae of job satisfaction and burnout for helping professionals have been identified in several studies (Bingham, Valenstein, Blow, & Alexander, 2002; Kirk-Brown & Wallace, 2004; Malach-Pines & Yafe-Yanai, 2001). The importance of studying burnout within an organizational context has been suggested by several researchers (Emerson & Markos, 1996; T. D. Evans & Villavisanis, 1997; Malach-Pines & Yafe-Yanai, 2001; McCarthy & Frieze, 1999). Job-related factors have been demonstrated to affect counselors' levels of burnout, with counselors in institutional settings being more vulnerable to burnout (Farber, 1990; Rosenberg & Pace, 2006; Trudeau, Russell, de la Mora, & Schmitz, 2001; Yu, Lee, & Lee, 2007). Higher rates of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were found in counselors working in community agency settings versus those in private practice, where it is believed that counselors are able to regulate their job-related stress easier because of working outside of a bureaucratic hierarchical system (Rosenberg & Pace, 2006). These findings are consistent with the Job Demand-Control (JD-C) model (Karasek, 1979) that suggests that job control protects the individual from problematic and damaging work environments. …