Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Stressors and Resources of Psychologists How Are Helpers Being Helped?

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Stressors and Resources of Psychologists How Are Helpers Being Helped?

Article excerpt

Since the days of Freud and Wundt, psychology has evolved into a complex professional field, demanding competence across a wide range of skills, from traditional therapy to inter-professional healthcare collaboration. This complexity presents a multitude of stressors and unique challenges as psychologists manage their clinical practice while remaining current in the ever-changing market.

Piotrowski (2012) studied the research trends that reflect the current emphasis and professional demands in an increasingly complex field. He found increasing emphases on evidence-based treatments, multicultural and ethical issues, military and veteran affairs and natural disaster community response. Other areas of emphasis remained constant over several decades, such as health and child psychology, forensic, interpersonal violence and suicide, chronic pain, and rural practice. As interest expands, professional expectations press psychologists to maintain knowledge and proficiency in a broad scope of practice while building new skills in emerging practice areas.

Professional psychology is unique in that it not only requires technical competence in the complex set of skills described above; it also requires a significant amount of personal investment, which is inherent to a relationship-focused vocation. Psychologists' personal investment in their clinical work may represent the most significant risk factor, as it may gradually tax the emotional and physical resources of the clinician. Recent research has noted the parallel process that can occur as psychologists face their own set of stressors, which may be similar to their clients, while also experiencing the stress that is unique to being a patient caregiver (Wise, Hersh, & Gibson, 2012). In addition to the challenges related to specific clinical work, psychologists frequently practice in settings where systemic pressures such as limited resources and/or excessive administrative demands create a multi-faceted stress that may be difficult to identify, let alone manage (Rupert & Morgan, 2005).

While the profession is not inherently stressful, the sources of professional stress decrease the psychologist's quality of life. Anxiety, depression, grief processing, trauma, and performance fears are many of the common stressors that challenge the practitioners' ability to work (Bearse et al., 2013). The social impact of professional stress can include increased family stress and conflict, cultural stress, financial concerns, and isolation. Stevanovic and Rupert (2009) found the presence of family stressors correlated with a psychologist experiencing less family support and less life satisfaction. Psychologists working in rural settings or unique settings experience isolation that negatively affects the quality and/or perceived stability of life. Learning ways to adaptively manage the sources of stress may not only improve a psychologist's quality of life but increase their professional effectiveness.

Additionally, suicide prevalence is a realistic concern among psychologists. The APA's Advisory committee on Colleague Assistance, along with other committees, investigated the incidence of suicide for psychologists as well as the risk and protective factors. (Kleepsies et al., 2011). Meta-analysis of the literature showed an increase in suicide attempts by practicing psychologists in the last two decades. Risk factors for psychologists tend to be similar to non-psychologists, including access to lethal sources, depressive and anxiety disorders, social isolation, family stress, and others, like impulsivity and hopelessness. There was a correlation between the length of time as a therapist and compassion fatigue with psychologists reporting increased compassion fatigue and negative psychological changes as their length of time in practice increased (Linley & Joseph, 2007).

Not only are psychologists personally invested in their clinical work, they are seen as self-motivated and responsive to community needs (Jenaro, Flores, & Arias, 2007). …

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