Who helps the helpers? An instrumental case study to allay professional burnout for school counselors.


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This Problem of Practice explored professional burnout experienced by high school counselors with varied years of experience. Burnout is a psychological experience of negative feelings and stress stemming from work related hazards (Maslach & Leiter, 2016). Gabassi et al. (2002), found professional burnout to be most significant in the helping professions because of the relationship demands between helper and client. Further, Morse et al. (2012), estimated that between 21% and 67% of helpers experience burnout and for school counselors, it is often the result of role misunderstanding, large caseloads, and unrelated duties assigned (Bardhoshi et al., 2014; Coll & Freeman, 1997; Fye et al., 2020; Gündüz, 2012; Holman et al., 2019; Noble, 2011). An extensive literature review uncovered the limited research describing preventive and resisting strategies for school counselors, thus an intervention from nursing, a similar helping profession, provided the basis for the instrumental case study research design to answer the question, what characteristics of professional burnout do school counselors exhibit before, during, and after participating in a research-based program. Six high school counselors in the NoCal school district participated via informal surveys, Stress management and resilience training (SMART; see Magtibay et al., 2017) intervention modules, and post-intervention questionnaires resulting in rich and descriptive qualitative data. The coding process was strenuous to protect the participant’s identity, and Maslach’s (1998) multidimensional theory of burnout, informed the theoretical framework, guided the data collection, and subsequent analysis. This study found emotional exhaustion occurred at any time during the academic year and was triggered by either one traumatic event or a series of challenging experiences faced. Next, depersonalization negatively Sinfluenced the participants’ relationships with the educational system, campus administration, and district leadership. Reduced personal accomplishment was significant for all school counselors, regardless of years of experience. Lastly, building connections and setting boundaries were important strategies outside of a systematic approach, to address professional burnout. The findings of the study supported the importance of exploring professional burnout in school counselors to prevent further impairment, improve services for students and families, decrease counselor attrition, and provide preparation programs with definitive teaching strategies to reduce the effects.