Burnout Syndrome in Professional Workers Who Deal with Treated Alcoholics

By Prazetina, Ivana | Alcoholism, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Burnout Syndrome in Professional Workers Who Deal with Treated Alcoholics


Prazetina, Ivana, Alcoholism


INTRODUCTION

Professional stress1 represents an imbalance of workplace requirements and surroundings with our abilities, wishes and expectations concerning fulfilling these requirements. The long-term exposure to professional stress results in the burnout syndrome, the most unfavorable outcome, which affects particularly the "helping professions" (psychiatrists, social workers, nurses...).2 One of the definitions states that the burnout syndrome is a gradual process in which once a productive and responsible worker loses all interest in his/her work or profession.3 It is a cumulative process that comes with small warning signs. Years can go by till symptoms are manifested as psychological or emotional problems as these signs are often diminutive. The burnout syndrome consists of four stages. The first stage, beginners enthusiasm is characterized by unreal expectations and self-investing of helper followed by high level of energy and good achievements. Second one is a stagnation stage in which helper starts to understand that work isn't as imagined, which is followed by the first appearance of physical and psychological exhaustion, pessimism and a lack of satisfaction with work. Isolation stage is the third stage, characterized by emotional withdrawal, avoiding contacts with colleagues, depression, negativism, angriness and hostility. Syndrome progression continues, sped by physical difficulties (chronic exhaustion, insomnia, headache, allergies etc.). Apathy and a lack of life interests, as a final stage, are the results of chronic frustration and complete lack of interest. Characteristics symptoms are loss of self-confidence, cynicism, serious emotional difficulties, not being able to communicate and work with colleagues and diminished interpersonal relations.4

The burnout syndrome can be stopped before the helper arrives at the last stage. The whole process can be turned the other way around by changing the working goals, attitudes and behaviors in the work surroundings,5 as the cause of professional stress can be internal and external.

The mental help of professional workers is at risk because of their everyday need to communicate with treated alcoholics, listen to the life problems, traumatic events, losses and similar issues.6 They are mostly unaware of how this line of work affects them and they avoid asking for help. Not recognizing the burnout syndrome, professional workers are themselves at risk of developing a negative attitude towards the treated alcoholics and provide ineffective and inadequate help.

Aim of this study was to investigate if professional workers recognized the burnout syndrome in working with treated alcoholics; if professional workers who work with treated alcoholics suffered from burnout syndrome; which profession is the most affected by the burnout syndrome and if there were any differences in social-demographic features and to see used strategies of self-help.

METHODS AND SAMPLE

The questionnaire consisted of 36 questions divided into two parts. The first part referred to professional workers' perception of the burnout syndrome and its causes, and the second part was The Burnout Syndrome Questionnaire1 (appendix).

The study included 40 professional workers (doctors, social workers, nurses, psychologist, special teachers),8,9 mainly from the city of Zagreb (Table 1). 40% of them work with treated alcoholics in Departments of Psychiatry in three Zagreb University Hospitals, 37.5% work only in clubs for treated alcoholics and 22.5% work in both. The structure of professional workers in relation to the working place was expected. In hospitals, representation of nurses and doctors was highest, but in clubs for treated alcoholics there were more social workers (Table 2). The mean age of professional workers was 45 years (min. - 24, max - 68), while the mean duration of working with treated alcoholics was 15 years (min. - 1, max. - 40), which means 22 hours per week (min. …

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