Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

An Examination of Burnout among School Counselors Guided by Stress-Strain-Coping Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

An Examination of Burnout among School Counselors Guided by Stress-Strain-Coping Theory

Article excerpt

Professional school counselors work to maximize scholastic achievement and lifelong learning among students, to promote an understanding of careers and the world of work, and to provide all students with opportunities for healthy personal and social growth (Campbell & Dahir, 1997). Yet, they are frequently called on to perform additional duties as part of their daily work. As a result, school counselors are constantly asked to set priorities and make decisions about how to best perform their job. This can lead to increased stress (Burnham & Jackson, 2000; Johnson, 2000). Stress-strain-coping theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) indicates that there is a concern that, without adequate coping skills, elevated levels of stress may lead to increased symptoms of burnout. With outcome symptomatology that includes ineffective delivery of services, exhaustion, physical complaints, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse (Huebner & Huberty, 1984; Kahill, 1988; Reiner & Hartshorne, 1982), impairment may result from such burnout.

The following study frames burnout within the stress-strain-coping continuum and seeks to examine which variables might place professional school counselors at greatest risk for substandard performance. Stress-strain-coping theory is briefly explored, followed by an examination of the three variable sets included in this study: (a) demographic stressors, (b) organizational stressors, and (c) coping styles.

A Transactional Approach to Understanding Burnout: Stress-Strain-Coping Theory

Endler and Parker (1999) emphasized that one's coping style plays an important role in both physical and psychological well-being. Inadequate coping styles exacerbate stress, resulting in the increased likelihood of burnout. Conversely, constructive coping strategies diminish stress, thereby leading to a decreased likelihood of burnout symptomatology. Leiter (1991) provided initial supporting evidence for these claims. In a study of workers in a mental health hospital (N = 177), his findings indicated that problem-oriented coping strategies, those initiated to enact change, were associated with decreased levels of burnout, whereas escapist, or avoidance, coping strategies were associated with increased levels of burnout. These findings indicate that stress-strain-coping theory may provide one useful way to better understand the burnout phenomenon.

Stresses and Strains: Variables Associated With Burnout Among School Counselors

Burnout is most frequently understood as a pattern of negative symptoms directly related to all areas of functioning (Savicki & Cooley, 1982). The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach & Jackson, 1981) was developed to assess burnout across three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. Emotional exhaustion is characterized by symptoms of physical and emotional depletion. Depersonalization describes a lack of empathy and emotional distance from the clients with whom one works. Finally, personal accomplishment describes feelings of competence in one's job.

Because of limited scholarship on stresses and strains as they relate to burnout among school counselors, related studies from the field of school psychology were also reviewed to assist with the development of this study. Results from these studies indicate two potential variable sets of stresses and strains for consideration: demographic variables and organizational variables. First, two demographic variables (i.e., the size of one's caseload and one's years of experience in the profession) have been associated with burnout among mental health professionals in schools (Butler & Constantine, 2005; Huberty & Huebner, 1988; Huebner, 1992, 1993; Mills & Huebner, 1998; Niebrugge, 1994; Reiner & Hartshorne, 1982; Sandoval, 1993; Stickel, 1991; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006). More specifically, studies have revealed that school counselors with large caseloads are more prone to exhibit symptoms of burnout. …

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