Avoiding Counsellor Burnout Post Pandemic

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic is considered “over”, counsellors may still be experiencing burnout as a result. Whether you’re super busy because you’re overwhelmed with the number of clients coming forward for help post-pandemic, or bored because your case numbers dropped and haven’t recovered, there’s a possibility that you may be suffering from burn out.

So how can you tell, and what can you do about it?

    Symptoms of burnout

    There are three main symptoms of burnout:

    • Loss of empathy, caring and compassion
    • Emotional exhaustion
    • Decreased sense of accomplishment

    If you’re beginning to experience burnout, you may find yourself:

    • Losing interest in clients or friends and family 
    • Not taking regular breaks 
    • Having difficulty in concentrating
    • Experiencing physical symptoms such as sleeplessness or headaches 
    • Self-medicating
    • Feeling anxious or depressed


    Counsellor Burnout in Pandemic

    Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

    Causes of Burnout

    Ever found yourself:

    • Saying “yes” to taking on a client even though you know you can’t really fit them in? 
    • Sitting with someone relating trauma and wanting to cry yourself?
    • Finding yourself reacting to what a client has told you, but having to hold it in until supervision which is nearly a month away?  
    • Wondering what decision to take in the moment as a client presents a problem?
    • With lots of paperwork to complete and no time to do it?
    • Asking if your work is making any difference, especially if a client has a relapse?

    All these factors can contribute to burnout.  

    They can be summed up as being caused by your dedication to help people, the burden of working on your own, and the demanding nature of therapeutic work.

    Often what underlies burnout is lack of control.  This can be true both if you’re overwhelmed with work and if you simply don’t have enough work (“bore out”).  

    If you’d like to see a checklist on identifying burnout, consult this article

    Read on for practical ways to tackle counsellor burnout

    Counsellor Burnout in the Pandemic

    Photo by Sydney Rae on Unsplash

    Three Ways to Tackle Therapist Burnout

    Forget perfectionism and set a reasonable expectation about what you can do and how many people you can help.  Remember:

    • It’s unrealistic to expect positive outcomes with every client
    • You don’t have to be the best therapist in order to help people
    • Sometimes your clients won’t like you and that’s part of the work
    • Given how many people never come for therapy, your client just turning up is a win
    • Your value does not lie in whether you’re a successful therapist or popular with your clients

    Take small steps to setting boundaries for yourself so that you’re making your world more supportive. For example:

    • Create a division between work and home life, even if you are working from home.  Various ideas that counsellors use to create that separation were discussed in this video – The biggest mistake in self-care
    • Ensure you are getting your social needs met outside your client work.  Create meaningful connections with friends and family instead.  Choose people who are kind, who like to grow, who are positive and mentally healthy.  Join Josephine’s Therapy Growth Group for peer group support
    • Take time to enjoy fresh air, exercise and time in green spaces, dance in the kitchen or join an online class
    • Change your media consumption away from material that drags you down and gives you perfectionist expectations.  Choose podcasts, blogs and books that build you up.

    Remember not to give yourself any ‘shoulds’ in self-care, see this article for more

    Reconnect with your power.  Think about what you can control in your life:

    • Where do you have full control? What’s within your realm of expertise?  Ideas include what you wear, what you eat, whether you exercise, what you choose to read or watch
    • What can you influence?  Perhaps you can’t choose dinner because someone else cooks it, but perhaps you could make requests
    • What’s outside of your control? And is there anything within your control or influence that you could bring to bear on it?  So while you may not be able to control the big issues of the day such as environmental, health or social issues, you can do something to help people who have anxiety about these – or empower them to make a positive contribution to society.

    For an exercise on circles of control see this article by Sarah Peck

    Looking for more support?

    Josephine seeks to help therapists by providing them with a supportive online community.  This is both via her free Facebook group – Good Enough Counsellors – and her paid membership group.  The Therapy Growth Group provides fortnightly coaching and networking sessions together with daily support via Facebook.  Click below to find out more.

    The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article.  Josephine  disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.