Jun 5, 2019 | Volume 9 - Issue 2
Leigh Falls Holman, Judith Nelson, Richard Watts
This study utilizes a correlation matrix to examine relationships between variables identified in literature (role ambiguity, role conflict, assignment of non-counseling duties, coworker and supervisor support, and level of control over time and task) as measured by the Demand Control Support Questionnaire (DCSQ), and elements of school counselor burnout (SCBO) as measured by the Counselor Burnout Inventory (CBI) subscales (Exhaustion, Incompetence, Negative Work Environment, Devaluing Clients, and Deterioration in Personal Life). Findings indicate experiencing high external demands, such as assignment of non-counseling duties; experiencing the school as a negative place to work; and experiencing low levels of support from colleagues and supervisors result in high levels of exhaustion and contribute to burnout. These variables need further exploration using a hierarchical multiple regression to analyze the amount of variance they contribute to SCBO. The article includes a discussion of ethical concerns, future research, and practice implications for school counselor educators, supervisors, educational administrators, and school counselors.
Keywords: school counselor burnout, non-counseling duties, role conflict, organizational variables, leadership
School counselors are a valuable resource in supporting a school’s mission to help children and adolescents develop into healthy, well-functioning, contributing members of society. However, when school counselors experience high levels of chronic job stress and burnout, those experiences may result in negative effects on the students and schools they serve (Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman & Grubbs, 2018). Therefore, identifying those variables most likely to contribute to school counselor burnout (SCBO) is crucial for counselor educators’ and supervisors’ development of prevention, monitoring, and early intervention protocols. With this end in mind, this study is the next in a series of research projects we are pursuing to systematically evaluate variables potentially related to SCBO in order to develop a model of SCBO in the future.
Background of School Counselor Burnout
Research suggests demographic variables potentially contribute to the development of SCBO, including high caseloads (Bardhoshi, Schweinle, & Duncan, 2014; Falls & Nichter, 2007; Gunduz, 2012), location of the school (Butler & Constantine, 2005), grade level served (DeMato & Curcio, 2004; Rayle, 2006), and gender and ethnicity of the counselor (Butler & Constantine, 2005; Falls & Nichter, 2007). However, our recent study utilizing a series of factorial ANOVAs systematically analyzed levels of job stress and burnout in relationship to these variables. The findings indicated, contrary to suggestions in the literature, that none of these variables is significantly related with both job stress and burnout (Holman, Watts, Robles-Pina, & Grubbs, 2018). These findings led us to seek additional potential SCBO contributing variables for exploration. Below we discuss additional variables we identified and how we operationalized them for the current study.
There are several features of external demands highlighted by the literature, which we describe below. Ultimately, we included role ambiguity, assignment of non-counseling duties, and role conflict in the current study.
Role ambiguity. The literature indicates that role ambiguity may contribute to SCBO (Culbreth, Scarborough, Banks-Johnson, & Solomon, 2005; Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman & Grubbs, 2018). School counselors frequently experience situations where various stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, parents, and students, have conflicting ideas about the school counseling role. Differences in understanding the appropriate role of the school counselor is defined as role ambiguity.
In addition to these stakeholders, school counselors have their own understanding of their roles. School counselors’ conceptualization of their roles is based on their graduate school training (Culbreth et al., 2005; Gibson, Dollarhide, & Moss, 2010; Goodman-Scott, 2015; Watkinson, Goodman-Scott, Martin, & Biles, 2017). However, role ambiguity among school counselors might result from lack of clarity from graduate school programs about the unique manifestation of counseling in a school environment, particularly if school counseling classes are add-on classes to clinical mental health coursework (Falls & Nichter, 2007). Additionally, educational administrators often have little if any instruction in their graduate programs regarding how to best utilize a school counselor in helping reach the school’s overall mission (Amatea & Clark, 2005; Dodson, 2009; Lieberman, 2004; Shoffner & Williamson, 2000). As such, this could be an area of professional advocacy school counselors need to pursue in order to reduce role ambiguity.
Further, the duties assigned by administrators due to role ambiguity are often inconsistent with the American School Counselor Association’s National Model (ASCA; 2012). ASCA’s model indicates school counselors should design and deliver comprehensive school counseling programs that promote student achievement. According to ASCA (2012), “school counseling programs are comprehensive in scope, preventative in design and developmental in nature” (p. 1). Appropriate duties include individual student academic program planning; interpreting testing; responsive counseling services related to school participation and achievement; collaboration with teachers, administrators, and parents; identifying and developing programming for student and school needs; advocating for students; and analyzing disaggregated data (ASCA, 2012).
Assignment of non-counseling duties. The assignment of non-counseling duties, those inconsistent with ASCA’s National Model (ASCA, 2012), is a significant subset of external demands that negatively impact school counselors (Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman, Grubbs, Robles-Pina, Nelson, & Watts, 2019). In fact, several studies have indicated that the assignment of inappropriate non-counseling duties (e.g., master scheduling, substitute teaching, conducting state mandated testing, lunch duty, clerical duties) is a potential variable contributing to SCBO (Baggerly & Osborn, 2006; Bardhoshi et al., 2014; DeMato & Curcio, 2004; Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman & Grubbs, 2018; Moyer, 2011).
However, one concern with these studies is the use of the School Counselor Activity Rating Scale’s Other Counseling Duties subscale (SCARS; Scarborough, 2005) to operationalize the assignment of non-counseling duties. The SCARS Other Counseling Duties subscale asks counselors to rate how often they participate on committees within the school; coordinate standardized testing programs; organize outreach to low income families; respond to health issues (e.g., check for lice, eye screening, 504 coordination); perform hall, bus, and cafeteria duty; schedule students for class; maintain educational records; handle discipline; and substitute teach.
According to the developer of the instrument, despite the overall strength of the other SCARS subscales, this subscale demonstrates low reliability (Scarborough 2005). It also does not measure the complex and varied external demands that school counselors experience from multiple stakeholders (Adelman & Taylor, 2002; Baker & Gerler, 2004; Culbreth et al., 2005; Falls & Nichter, 2007; Herlihy, Gray, & McCollum, 2002; Holman & Grubbs, 2018; House & Hayes, 2002). Therefore, in order to measure this construct for the current study, we sought to find another instrument that might measure these non-counseling duties commonly assigned to school counselors. After we discuss the other variables identified as potentially contributing to SCBO, we will discuss a different instrument for operationalizing non-counseling duties.
Role conflict. Role conflict occurs when school counselors experience multiple external demands from a variety of stakeholders (i.e., administrators, parents, teachers, and students). They report feeling so overwhelmed with attempting to meet all of these externally imposed expectations that they have trouble actually following the ASCA model (Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman & Grubbs, 2018). As a result, school counselors experience job stress from competing externally imposed demands, each exerting pressure on school counselors’ limited time and resources.
Control Over School Counselor Tasks and Time
Conflicting external demands can become even more challenging when school counselors believe they do not have the ability to choose which tasks to prioritize or how much time to spend on different tasks. This can occur because building administrators insist the school counselor rigidly adhere to only those tasks the administrator believes are important, many of which may be contrary to the ASCA National Model (Falls & Nichter, 2007). Alternatively, school counselors may experience pressure from a building administrator who prioritizes some activities and a director of guidance who prioritizes completely different activities. School counselors may believe they cannot address student needs or conduct needs-based programming because there simply is not enough time to do so. School counselor job stress research indicated that the level of control counselors experience over how they spend their time might affect their level of job stress (Lee, Cho, Kissinger, & Ogle, 2010). Therefore, this is another potential variable we need to explore in relationship to SCBO.
Coworker Support and Supervision for School Counselors
The SCBO literature identifies two additional related variables, coworker support (Bardhoshi et al., 2014; Gunduz, 2012; Holman & Grubbs, 2018; Lambie, 2007; Thomas, 2011) and supervisory support (Bardhoshi et al. 2014; Holman & Grubbs, 2018; Moyer, 2011; Thomas, 2011), as potentially affecting the development of SCBO. Coworker support refers to the quality of relationships school counselors have with their fellow counselors, teachers, and administrators. Supervisory support refers to either the school counselor’s administrative supervisor or a clinical supervisor, which varies from school to school and district to district. Some school counselors have only a building administrator with little other supervisory support, while others have fellow counselors, perhaps even senior school counselors, whom they rely on for clinical supervision. Some districts have directors of guidance who act as school counselor supervisors. Regardless of how support structures are manifest in schools, the support variable, including both perceived support from colleagues and supervisory support, needs to be explored in relationship to SCBO.
We first obtained Institutional Review Board approval. Our research question was: What is the relationship of external demands on time, perceived control over work duties, and colleague and supervisor support with school counselor burnout symptomology? This current study builds on our previous research examining potential demographic variables identified in the literature as potential predictor variables for SCBO. In this study, we explored the significance, strength, and direction of the correlations between role ambiguity, role conflict, and assignment of non-counseling duties, measured by the Demand Control Support Questionnaire (DCSQ) Demand subscale; perceived control school counselors have over how their time is spent on the job, measured by the DCSQ Control subscale; school counselors’ perceptions regarding the level of support they experience from supervisors and colleagues, measured by the DCSQ Supervisor and Colleague Support subscale; and levels of SCBO measured by the Counselor Burnout Inventory (CBI) subscales. We intend to utilize the findings of this and our previous research to develop a model of SCBO in the future.
A priori, we conducted a power analysis determining that we needed 174 participants for sufficient power (a < .05, ß = .8), with a medium effect size (GPower, 2008). We solicited participants by sending emails with a link to our consent and survey to all school counselors in the state of Texas from a list provided by the Texas Education Agency. Employing a criterion sampling strategy, we only included those who met the following criteria: (a) certified school counselor in Texas, and (b) working in a public elementary, middle, or high school (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2011). Our non-random sample of 449 school counselors is representative of the population of Texas certified school counselors with most being White (81%), followed by smaller groups of Black (10%) and Hispanic (9%) counselors. Most (93%) reported having master’s degrees with the remainder holding educational specialist or doctoral degrees.
The sample represents elementary school (43%), middle school (22%), and high school (35%) counselors. Most of the counselors worked in suburban locations (47%), with rural (28%) and urban (26%) almost evenly split to make up the remainder of the sample. They reported working in schools ranging in size from 100 to 3,400 students. Over half the counselors responding reported caseloads of over 400 (53%), with those reporting 251–400 students (35%) as the next largest group, and those with less than 250 (11%) being the least represented group. The mean age of the participants was 44 years, with an average of 13 years’ experience in educational settings. Almost half (43%) were school counselors for 5 years or less. A quarter (25%) reported being counselors between 6 and 10 years, and 32% reported having at least 11 years’ experience as a school counselor.
The current study gathered demographic data in addition to utilizing two instruments. The first is the DCSQ (Karasek & Theorell, 1990) and the second is the CBI (Lee et al., 2007).
DCSQ. The DCSQ (Karasek & Theorell, 1990) is a 30-item scale measuring “psychological work demands, job control and workplace social support” (Williams, Sundelin, & Schmuck, 2001, p. 71). It is the most recent iteration of a scale measuring job demands and psychological workload, decision latitude or control over tasks, and coworker and supervisory support on the job. The goal of the instrument, according to the developers, is “gathering objective data about work environments relevant for prevention-oriented goals of improving social and psychological working conditions” (Karasek et al., 1998; p. 328). It is self-administered and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete (Karasek, 1979; Karasek et al., 1998; Karasek & Theorell, 1990). Participants rate each statement on a 4-point Likert scale: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = agree, and 4 = strongly agree. The subscales used in our study measure external demands (9 questions), perceived control (9 questions), and supervisor and coworker support (11 questions).
Multiple studies conducting exploratory factor analyses on the questionnaire support the dimensional structure (Cheng, Luh, & Guo, 2003; Choobineh, Ghaem, & Ahmedinejad, 2011; de Araújo & Karasek, 2008; Edimansyah, Rusli, Naing, & Mazalisah, 2006; Eum et al., 2007; Gimeno, Benavides, Amick, Benach, & Martínez, 2004; Gomez-Ortiz & Moreno, 2009; Kawakami, Kobayashi, Araki, Haratani, & Furui, 1995; Li, Yang, Liu, Xu, & Choi, 2004; Mase et al., 2012; Nehzat, Huda, & Tajuddin, 2014). In a recent study, both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis examined goodness of fit using the Root Mean Square Error of Approximation, finding the values indicate good (.08) to excellent (.05) fit (Santos, Carvalho, & de Araújo, 2016). Additionally, research analyzing the data using a Comparative Fit Index and Tucker-Lewis Index compared the hypothetic model with independent variables finding both indices vary from 0 to 1 and values were above .90, indicating adequate fit (Santos, et al., 2016). They also established composite reliability for each factor loading and respective measurement error at or above .70, indicating satisfactory internal consistency (Santos et al., 2016). Finally, research has demonstrated adequate performance in discriminant validity (Santos et al., 2016).
According to Karasek and colleagues (1998), the coefficients on each subscale indicate strong internal consistency: Demand (.71–.79), Control (.80–.84), and Supervisor and Coworker Support
(.72–.85). Additionally, the “internal consistency of the scales tend to be similar across populations and between men and women” (Karasek et al., 1998, p. 336). The Cronbach’s alphas coefficient for women is .73 and for men is .74, both within acceptable ranges (Karasek et al., 1998). Additionally, several studies support the reliability of the scale format we used in our study (Kawakami & Fujigaki, 1996; Kawakami et al., 1995).
CBI. The CBI (Lee et al., 2007) is a 20-item self-report instrument measuring counselor burnout. Respondents rate each item on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never true) to 5 (always true). A distinguishing feature of the CBI is that it includes both personal and organizational factors in determining level of burnout, whereas the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) uses a model of burnout exclusive of organizational factors (Maslach, 1982; Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996, 1997). This is significant given that the literature indicates organizational factors, such as external demand on school counselor’s time spent on non-counseling duties (e.g., car duty, scheduling, test administration), as contributing to school counselor burnout (Baggerly & Osborn, 2006; Butler & Constantine, 2005; Culbreth et al., 2005; DeMato & Curcio, 2004; Falls & Nichter, 2007; Lambie, 2007; Mullen & Gutierrez, 2016; Rayle, 2006; Thompson & Powers, 1983; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006).
The CBI developers established initial psychometrics using an exploratory factor analysis to evaluate construct validity and confirmed their findings with a second exploratory factor analysis. They identified five factors accounting for 66.9% of the total variance in school counselor burnout. Factor 1 is Negative Work Environment (NWE). This subscale includes items such as, “I feel frustrated with the system in my workplace,” thus measuring stress attributed to the work environment other than personal and interpersonal problems. Factor 2 is Devaluing Clients, which includes items such as, “I am no longer concerned about the welfare of my clients,” thus measuring a counselor’s challenges with connecting empathically with student clients. Factor 3 is Deterioration in Personal Life. This subscale includes items such as, “I feel I do not have enough time to spend with my friends,” thus measuring counselor’s perceptions of job-related stress on their personal life. Factor 4 is Exhaustion, including items such as, “Due to my job as a counselor I feel tired most of the time,” thus measuring physical and emotional exhaustion attributed to the job. Finally, Factor 5 is Incompetence. This subscale includes items such as, “I feel I am an incompetent counselor,” thus measuring the counselor’s self-perception of effectiveness on the job. Internal consistency of subscales is acceptable, ranging between .73 and .85 (Lee et al., 2007).
Initially, the instrument developers analyzed the psychometric properties of the CBI with two samples. Although not designed specifically to measure burnout among school counselors, the first sample of 258 counselors included 32.6% professional school counselors, and the second sample of 132 contained 43.2% professional school counselors (Lee et al., 2007, p. 144). Further, researchers validated the instrument with several counseling subspecialties, including school counselors (Lee et al., 2010; O’Sullivan & Bates, 2014). One study of the CBI with 272 school counselors using confirmatory factor analysis found the factor structure valid for use specifically with school counselors (Gnilka, Karpinski, & Smith, 2015). Additionally, test-retest reliability using a 6-week interval demonstrates strong reliability with subscale Cronbach alphas ranging from .72 to .85 (Lee et al., 2007). Finally, both concurrent validity (Lee et al., 2007; Wallace, Lee, & Lee, 2010) and discriminant validity (Lee et al., 2007; O’Sullivan & Bates, 2014; Puig et al., 2012) are well established.
Consistent with our approved protocol, we sent a survey link through Survey Monkey to all school counselor emails provided by the Texas Education Agency. We believe that school counselors suffering burnout are less likely to self-select without an additional incentive to participate because of the negative effects of burnout; therefore, they are more likely to be professionally disengaged. As such, we offered an incentive $50 gift certificate drawing for those choosing to participate and who provided their contact information at the end of the survey. According to Dillman (2014), the offer of an incentive is likely to improve the response rate and inclusion of participants that would not otherwise self-select to take the survey. After reading and agreeing to the consent document, participants completed an online survey comprised of the demographic questionnaire, the DCSQ, and the CBI.
We downloaded the data from Survey Monkey to Excel and transferred it to SPSS. Once transferred, we eliminated any participants with missing data, leading to our final sample described above. We then conducted descriptive statistics including measures of central tendency, variability and dispersion, distributional shape, and histograms to evaluate normality, in order to ensure that the data collected is appropriate for the analysis conducted. After establishing that the data met the assumptions of normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity, we calculated the reliability coefficients for each of the instruments, namely the DCSQ and CBI, to evaluate their reliability. Once satisfied that each instrument demonstrated adequate reliability coefficients (.70 or higher), we conducted a Pearson’s product moment correlation to explore the relationships between the subscales for each instrument (Field, 2005). We examined the correlation matrix to evaluate evidence of multicollinearity, looking for correlations between two scales of .80 or higher. There were no subscales in the correlation matrix indicating multicollinearity.
The reliability of the DCSQ and CBI subscales is documented in Table 1, and the relationships between the subscales is documented in Table 2. The DCSQ Demand subscale indicated a significant relationship to each CBI subscale; however, only four of them are large enough to interpret. These included a significant positive relationship between the Demand subscale and the CBI Exhaustion subscale (r = .608, p < .01), the CBI Incompetence subscale (r = .297, p < .01), the CBI NWE subscale (r = .517, p < .01), and the CBI Deterioration in Personal Life subscale (r = .518, p < .01). Although low, the Demand subscale also demonstrated significant negative relationships to the DCSQ Coworker and Supervisor Support subscale (r = -.272, p < .01). Therefore, increases in external demands placed on school counselors will likely result in higher levels of exhaustion, feelings of incompetence, experience of their work environment as negative, and deterioration in their personal lives. However, with increasing levels of coworker and supervisory support, external demands may have less impact on school counselors.
DCSQ Subscale Reliability
||Cronbach’s Alpha based on standardized items
||Number of Items
|DCSQ Coworker Support
|DCSQ Supervisor Support
|CBI Negative Work Environment
|CBI Devaluing Clients
|CBI Deterioration in Personal Life
Correlation Matrix (DCSQ and CBI Subscales)
|7. Devaluing Clients
|8. Deter in Pers Life
Note. *p < .05 ** p < .01
The Control subscale demonstrated significant negative correlations with the Demand (r = -.246,
p < .01), Exhaustion (r = -.153, p = < .01), Incompetence (r = -.106, p < .05), and Deterioration in Personal Life (r = -1.81, p < .01) subscales, and demonstrated a significant positive relationship with Coworker and Supervisor Support (r = .294, p < .01). However, only the NWE subscale (r = -.330, p < .01) correlation is large enough to interpret, increased control being significantly negatively correlated with NWE. Although the other correlations are low, there may be interaction effects that warrant future exploration. Therefore, the data suggested that with increased control over how school counselors spend their time, they are impacted less by external demands. They also experienced lower levels of exhaustion, feelings of incompetence, and deterioration in their personal lives. Working in an NWE results in school counselors feeling they have significantly less control over their day-to-day work.
The DCSQ Coworker and Supervisor Support subscale was significantly negatively related to the Demand (r = -.272 p < .01), Exhaustion (r = -.224, p < .01), Incompetence (r = -.166, p < .01), Devaluing Clients (r = -.221, p < .01), and Deterioration in Personal Life (r = -.252, p < .01) subscales. However, only the NWE subscale correlation was large enough to interpret (r = -.646, p < .01). The Coworker and Supervisor Support subscale is significantly positively related to Control (r = .294, p < .01). These data indicate that increased perceptions of support from coworkers and supervisors decrease school counselors’ negative experience of external demands on their day-to-day work. They also feel lower levels of exhaustion, incompetence, experiences of devaluing their students, and deterioration in their personal lives. Similar to the Control variable discussed above, experiences of coworker and supervisory support are perceived to be lower when school counselors experience their work environments as negative.
Discussion and Implications
Although this study was formulated to expand research regarding demographic variables related to school counselor burnout, they were not found to be significant (Holman et al., 2018). Therefore, the current study focused on exploring organizational variables that may contribute to SCBO. After evaluating the literature, we identified the variables of role ambiguity, role conflict, and assignment of non-counseling duties, which we operationalized using the DCSQ Demand subscale; coworker and supervisory support, which we operationalized using the DCSQ Support subscale; and the level of control school counselors perceive they have over their time and tasks, which we operationalized using the DCSQ Control subscale.
We utilized a correlation matrix to explore relationships between these variables and the subscales of the CBI, which is a valid and reliable measure of SCBO. Our findings indicated organizational variables including high external demands, such as assignment of non-counseling duties; experiencing the school as a negative place to work; and experiencing low levels of support from colleagues and supervisors resulted in high levels of exhaustion and contributed to burnout. These variables need further exploration in future research using a hierarchical multiple regression to analyze the amount of variance they contribute to SCBO. This can provide school counselor educators, supervisors, school administrators, and school counselors with valuable information on the best areas of focus for prevention and intervention activities.
The Demand subscale consistently demonstrates the strongest correlations across the matrix. This subscale measures psychological work overload and job conflict that result from role ambiguity such as the assignment of non-counseling duties. Items included whether the job requires employees to “work fast” or “work hard,” perception of “no excessive work,” having “enough time” to complete tasks, experiencing “conflicting demands” or frequent “task interruption,” experiencing the job as “hectic,” or that they have to “wait on others” to complete their job (Karasek et al., 1998).
Research on school counselor role ambiguity supports work overload and job conflict as both antecedents and consequences of role ambiguity in cyclical fashion (Paisley & McMahon, 2001). Additionally, our previous research supports the likelihood of interactions between these constructs, indicating that the DCSQ Demand subscale measures the assignment of non-counseling duties due to role ambiguity, thus resulting in role conflict and work overload (Holman et al., 2019). Role ambiguity, role conflict, and work overload interact to contribute to SCBO (Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman & Grubbs, 2018; Maslach, 1982; Selye, 1976).
Given these data, we recommend school counselor educators and supervisors consider integrating ways to manage psychological workload in their pedagogical development of emerging school counselors. In addition, we recommend school counseling professionals self-monitor levels of psychological workload in order to identify job stress early and intervene through being proactive in planning self-care activities and continually monitoring levels of job stress so that early intervention and remediation is possible. School counselor educators, supervisors, and school counselors also should consider methods for systematically educating stakeholders on the appropriate role of a school counselor and advocate for that role. One way to do so is to utilize data-driven methods such as needs assessments and both formative and summative program evaluation measures.
By engaging in data-driven practice, school counselors have the necessary tools to communicate their roles and their worth to important stakeholders. School counselors should be proactive in reporting results from formative and summative program evaluation to stakeholders. This is consistent with the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012); however, school counselors likely increase their burnout risk when they continue to wait for administrators to direct them in which activities they will perform. We recommend that school counselors take command of their role by approaching the job from a professional school counselor mindset that demonstrates their role through action, rather than waiting to respond to others’ perceptions of their role.
Coworker and Supervisory Support
Perceiving higher levels of coworker and supervisory support has a significant inverse relationship with the level of external demands the school counselor experiences on the job. This likely makes sense when we consider that the demands most often prioritized by school counselors are those that come from supervisors. This is consistent with previous literature that found coworker and supervisory support mediates SCBO (Falls & Nichter, 2007). Although significant, the level is just under .3. Given that support is significantly related to a decrease in SCBO, it is important to include the variable in a future regression analysis; however, based on the small correlation, this variable is likely to account for less variance in SCBO than some may hypothesize. The largest relationship involving level of support is the fact that when school counselors perceive they have low levels of support, they experience their work settings in a negative light. It is difficult with this limited data to understand whether the low support results in feeling negative about the work environment or vice versa. This is an area for exploration in the future, as it could provide important information about potential prevention.
Potential Effects of SCBO
Our research suggests that having a negative experience of one’s school environment is very important because it negatively impacts school counselors’ levels of student engagement and competency on the job. Additionally, the data indicated that school counselors working in a negative school environment not only experience high levels of exhaustion but also demonstrate a significant deterioration in their personal lives. The seminal literature on burnout among professionals who are not school counselors has extensively documented the physical, psychological, and interpersonal effects of job stress and burnout (e.g., Maslach, 1982; Selye, 1976). Additionally, preliminary research on SCBO indicated that school counselors report similar negative physical and psychological experiences resulting from job stress (Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman & Grubbs, 2018). These include developing high blood pressure, overeating, engaging in substance abuse, developing insomnia, and exacerbation of mental health issues related to mood disorders and anxiety (Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman & Grubbs, 2018).
Our study supports this existing research that there is a positive relationship between deterioration in personal life and burnout. Given both anecdotal experiences and decades of research on stress and burnout, these results probably seem obvious. However, the impact of SCBO on school counselors’ personal and professional lives, and specifically on the schools and students they serve, needs further examination in research uniquely focused on these topics.
Deterioration in personal life. If we value the professional school counselors who provide supportive services for our schools, students, teachers, and parents, we should be concerned with their well-being. Counselor educators, supervisors, and those stakeholders who advocate for support of school counselors must actively demonstrate the value we have for school counselors. As such, we recommend that school counselor educators and supervisors develop intentional educational advocacy activities to teach the myriad of stakeholders in our communities about the effective role of school counselors. We tend to do a good job through our professional organizations lobbying for funding for school counselors. However, we do not always adequately educate school administrators, specifically, on the appropriate roles for a school counselor and on how utilizing school counselors in these roles ultimately benefits the school’s mission of developing healthy, knowledgeable, and well-functioning members of society who contribute to a positive community climate.
Professional incompetence. The Incompetence subscale utilized in our study was significantly related to experiencing low levels of control over time and tasks, and low levels of support. Responses also demonstrated significant relationships with feeling high levels of external demands on time, experiencing exhaustion, perceiving one’s school environment as negative, devaluation of students, and deterioration in their personal lives. Although professional school counselors in previous studies have indicated that they do not view themselves as incompetent, measured as low sense of personal accomplishment by the MBI (Butler & Constantine, 2005; Lambie, 2007; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006), our findings demonstrated a positive relationship between feelings of incompetence and SCBO.
One potential reason might be that the CBI, as an alternative measure normed specifically on school counselors, may provide a more nuanced and accurate method for measuring this construct. However, future research should examine this, determining whether these findings warrant this conclusion. It is our belief that there is a complex interplay of factors not yet identified in the literature which may improve our understanding of this variable. Therefore, future research should examine the development of school counselor incompetence more closely to gain a better understanding of how it manifests among this population.
We believe another interpretation for conflicting results on reported levels of incompetence among school counselors is that they do not view themselves as incompetent or lacking professional ability. Rather, they view themselves as being externally prevented from using the counseling skills they have. This happens due to conflicting external demands involving assignment of non-counseling duties prioritized as more important than counseling-specific duties (Falls & Nichter, 2007; Holman et al., 2019).
Regardless, if using the CBI to monitor SCBO levels, high scores on the Incompetence subscale would suggest school counselors are experiencing professional impairment. As a result, they are at risk of unethical behavior that may cause harm to students and schools. These risks include developing compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma, developing mental health or substance abuse issues that may impact performance, or even engaging in boundary violations with students through inappropriate relationships. Thus, we recommend school counselor educators, supervisors, and school districts monitor this as a form of risk management through periodic surveys or regular supervisory sessions where directors of guidance and administrators can gather qualitative data about levels of job stress in school counselors’ experience. We argue that once high levels of incompetence develop, the counselor is likely experiencing burnout requiring significant intervention, which might include taking a sabbatical or supervisors counseling these impaired professionals out of the profession. We emphasize the importance of prevention and early intervention in order to avoid school counselors developing high levels of incompetence.
Limitations and Future Research
The current study has several potential limitations, including that self-report research may result in respondents answering based on social desirability, or they might exaggerate their experiences. However, most of our limitations stem primarily from the limited school counseling sample. For reliable generalization beyond the population of school counselors in Texas, future research needs to evaluate these variables with school counselors in other geographic areas. Doing so might reflect differences across the diverse population of school counselors. Similarly, Caucasian participants (81%) are overwhelmingly represented in our sample. Although this may be consistent with the population of Texas school counselors, the sample does not represent the total population of school counselors to which we wish to generalize. Therefore, future research should seek to develop more ethnically diverse samples when replicating this study.
In addition, almost half our sample (43%) were elementary school counselors; therefore, future researchers should examine differences between counselors in elementary, middle, and high school levels in relationship to these predictor variables, perhaps conducting separate studies with each level to determine how much variance demand, control, and supervision or support variables impact SCBO among each of these groups. This is particularly salient in light of concerns about role ambiguity and role conflict developing out of discrepancies between school counselor training and actual duties on the job. In fact, research indicates that training for school counselors on level-specific (elementary and secondary) issues and activities has decreased over time from 14% of programs in 2000 to 2% in 2010 (Pérusse, Goodnough, & Noël, 2001; Pérusse, Poynton, Parzych, & Goodnough, 2015). Further, Goodman-Scott (2015) found no significant differences in recently graduated school counselors regarding content of coursework preparing them for elementary versus secondary placements. In fact, research has indicated that counselor educators preparing school counselors for elementary school positions make pedagogical decisions (e.g., what material to teach in classes and what classes to offer) primarily due to external influences like licensure requirements and job openings, rather than developmental needs of emerging school counselors (Goodman-Scott, Watkinson, Martin, & Biles, 2016). Therefore, future research also might examine interaction effects between grade level training and actual duties in relationship to burnout.
Similarly, future researchers should examine differences between urban, suburban, and rural locations in relationship to the predictor variables measured in the current study, given that almost half the sample (47%) worked in suburban locations. Again, separate studies may provide better information about differences between location of the school and school counselors’ experiences regarding the impact of external demands, decision latitude (control), and levels of perceived support or supervision on development of SCBO, if any exist.
Over half of our sample (53%) had caseloads of 400 or more, which is larger than that recommended by the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012). Although this may be common across the country, we suggest future research test whether these high caseloads may interact with other variables to influence the developmental trajectory of job stress. Therefore, future research should examine school counselors’ caseloads as they interact with levels of external demands, decision latitude, supervision, and colleague support to gain a more nuanced understanding of how these variables interact to influence development of SCBO.
Finally, interaction effects between these variables and identification of potential mediating and moderating variables will provide nuance in our understanding of diverse developmental trajectories of SCBO. By further exploring these, we may identify improved methods of monitoring, prevention, and early intervention, which can all work to support and sustain quality school counselors.
This project was the next one in a series of systematic studies evaluating potential contributing variables suggested in the SCBO literature. Given the serious potential impact of burnout on sustaining school counselors and on potential competency issues discussed above, which could violate school counselors’ ethical duty to promote student welfare, it is crucial that we understand the development of burnout in this counselor population. Our exploration of demographic variables indicated none of these significantly relate to development of job stress and burnout for school counselors surveyed, contrary to suggestions in previous literature (Holman et al., 2018). However, the current study demonstrated several variables that do correlate with school counselor burnout.
Stakeholders who demonstrate a lack of understanding about the appropriate role and duties of school counselors should be aware of conflicting demands on counselors’ time that increase job stress. These include inappropriate duties such as substitute teaching, standardized test administration, master scheduling, and disciplining students. As a result, these counselors experience high levels of psychological stress and emotional exhaustion, consistent with the traditional model of burnout discussed in the literature. Stress and exhaustion have negative effects on counselors’ personal and professional lives. Their experiences of stress are further exacerbated when they experience low levels of support from coworkers and supervisors. The combination of low support with high demands and low control over decision making likely contributes to school counselors’ experiencing their school environment negatively. External demands, emotional exhaustion, deterioration in personal life, low support and supervision, and NWE are potential predictor variables that might contribute to development of school counselor burnout and need further evaluation in future research.
Due to the results of this and previous studies, we recommend school counselors take the following steps to reduce the negative effects of stress that can result in burnout. Counselors should intentionally pursue preventative self-care planning and continual monitoring of stress levels with early intervention and remediation when heightened stress is identified. Additionally, we recommend school counselors be conscientious about engaging in data-driven practice for self-advocacy with stakeholders in order to improve stakeholder awareness of appropriate school counseling activities. We recommend that counselor educators develop pedagogical supports and induction practices that might serve to inoculate emerging school counselors to the typical stressors experienced in this professional role. Finally, we recommend ongoing supports, including consultation, supervision, networking, and personal counseling, when necessary to help school counselors manage stress levels. Future research should develop a model of school counselor burnout and explore potential mediating variables and interaction effects between variables. Doing so can inform future prevention and intervention efforts.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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Leigh Falls Holman is an assistant professor at the University of Memphis. Judith Nelson is an associate professor at Sam Houston State University. Richard Watts is a Distinguished Professor of Counseling at Sam Houston State University. Correspondence can be addressed to Leigh Falls Holman, CEPR, 100 Ball Hall Walker Ave., Memphis, TN 38152, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sep 1, 2018 | Volume 8 - Issue 3
Nayoung Kim, Glenn W. Lambie
To prevent school counselors from experiencing feelings of burnout, identifying relevant factors is important. The purpose of this article is to review studies investigating the constructs of burnout and occupational stress in school counseling samples. Eighteen published research articles fit the inclusion criteria for this review. The researchers identified external and internal variables relating to school counselor burnout, as well as protective and risk factors. The review identified that school counselors’ higher level of burnout correlated with having non-counseling duties, being assigned large caseloads, working in schools that did not meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) status, experiencing a lack of supervision, possessing greater emotion-oriented stress coping scores, providing fewer direct student services, and having greater perceived stress. In contrast, feelings of burnout among school counselors were mitigated when counselors received supervision, possessed higher task-oriented stress coping strategies, scored at higher levels of ego maturity, reported greater occupational support at their schools, had greater grit scores, and worked in schools that met AYP.
Keywords: burnout, occupational stress, school counselors, non-counseling duties, coping strategies
There are multiple definitions of burnout (e.g., Burke & Richardson, 2000; Stalker & Harvey, 2002); however, the primary consistent aspect of burnout is that it is a psychological phenomenon associated with job-related stress (Maslach, 2017). Burnout occurs when professionals are unable to meet their own needs, as well as their clients’ needs, in a high-pressure environment (Maslach, 2017). Freudenberger (1990) identified common symptoms of burnout, including negative changes in individuals’ (a) attitudes and decision making; (b) physiological states; (c) mental, emotional, and behavioral health; and (d) occupational motivation. Burnout has significant consequences, including compromised physical health, increased risk of mental health disorders (e.g., depression, substance abuse), poor job performance, absenteeism, occupational attrition, and low self-esteem (Maslach & Leiter, 2016). Burnout can also cause symptoms such as fatigue, exhaustion, and insomnia (Armon, Shirom, Shapira, & Melamed, 2008).
Burnout in School Counseling
Morse, Salyers, Rollins, Monroe-DeVita, and Pfahler (2012) identified that 21% to 67% of mental health professionals reported experiencing high levels of burnout, possibly because of dealing with high client caseloads (Ducharme, Knudsen, & Roman, 2007) or overall job effectiveness (Stalker & Harvey, 2002). In addition, Oddie and Ousley (2007) found that 21% to 48% of mental health workers reported experiencing high levels of emotional exhaustion. School counselors specifically are at risk for experiencing feelings of burnout because of their multiple job demands, including paperwork, parent conferences, school-wide testing, large caseloads, and requests from administrators (McCarthy & Lambert, 2008), and other factors such as role ambiguity and limited occupational support (Young & Lambie, 2007). The school counseling job environment, where “the demands of the work are high, but the resources to meet those demands are low” (Maslach & Goldberg, 1998, pp. 63–64), increases susceptibility to experiencing feelings of burnout (e.g., average student-to-counselor ratio being 491-to-1; National Center for Education Statistics, 2016). Stephan (2005) found that within a national sample of school counselors, 66% of middle school counselors scored at moderate to high levels of emotional exhaustion. Further, Wachter (2006) found that 20% of the school counselors in her investigation (N = 132) experienced feelings of burnout; 16% scored at moderate levels of burnout, and 4% scored at severe levels of burnout. Thus, many school counselors experience feelings of burnout that may influence their ability to provide ethical and effective counseling services to the students they serve.
School counselors may experience chronic fatigue, depersonalization, or feelings of hopelessness and leave their jobs because of the rigidity of school systems and limited support (Young & Lambie, 2007). In fact, counselors experiencing significant feelings of burnout provide reduced quality of service to their clientele because burnout relates to lower productivity, turnover intention, and a lowered level of job commitment (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Because of the importance of preventing the burnout phenomenon, the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA; 2016) ethical standards note that school counselors are responsible for maintaining their health, both physically and emotionally, and caring for their wellness to ensure their effective practice. The American Counseling Association’s (2014) ethical standards also state that school counselors have an ethical responsibility to monitor their feelings of burnout and remediate when their feelings potentially influence their ability to provide quality services to their stakeholders. To monitor burnout, counselors need to understand the symptoms of burnout and prevent it from happening, while maintaining their psychological well-being.
School counselors face challenges with their significant job demands (McCarthy, Van Horn Kerne, Calfa, Lambert, & Guzmán, 2010), such as large caseloads (Lambie, 2007) and extreme amounts of non-counseling duties (Moyer, 2011). In fact, school counselors report job stress and dissatisfaction when they are required to complete non-counseling duties, hindering their ability to work with their students (McCarthy et al., 2010). Examples of non-counseling duties include clerical tasks, such as scheduling students for classes; fair share, such as coordinating the standardized testing program; and administrative duties, such as substitute teaching (Scarborough, 2005). School counselors with large caseloads and high student-to-counselor ratios are more likely to experience increased feelings of burnout (Bardhoshi, Schweinle, & Duncan, 2014). Although ASCA (2015) recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1, the U.S. average student-to-counselor ratio is almost double the recommended proportion (491-to-1; National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).
Insufficient resources for school counselors and negative job perception increase their likelihood of experiencing feelings of burnout. Lower levels of principal support and lack of clinical supervision raise school counselors’ occupational stress (Bardhoshi et al., 2014; Moyer, 2011). For instance, school counselors with higher levels of role ambiguity are likely to experience burnout (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006). School counselors experience role ambiguity when their responsibilities or the expected level of performance is not clearly identified (Coll & Freeman, 1997). As a result, school counselors report increased levels of stress (Culbreth, Scarborough, Banks-Johnson, & Solomon, 2005), leading to burnout and attrition from the profession (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006). ASCA (2016) dictated that school counselors’ responsibilities include providing counseling services to students to support their development, which distinguishes them from other school personnel. With the importance of preventing burnout in school counseling, the purpose of this review is twofold: (a) to present identified factors influencing school counselors’ levels of burnout and (b) to offer strategies to assist school counselors in mitigating the feelings of burnout.
Research Examining Burnout in School Counseling
We began by conducting a formal search of electronic databases—PsycINFO, ERIC (EBSCOhost), and Academic Search Premiere—relating to school counselor burnout. The search term burnout was first used to analyze the research trend in the field. Both the search terms burnout and school counselors OR school counseling were used to collect any articles on the topic of school counselor burnout published between 2000 and 2018. An additional search was conducted with the terms occupational stress and school counselors OR school counseling to identify potential studies related to the topic in the same type of literature.
The following inclusion criteria were applied for our review: (a) investigations of school counselor burnout and occupational stress, (b) sample participants were school counselors in the United States, (c) the primary topic of the investigation was burnout and/or occupational stress, (d) articles were written in English, (e) articles were published in refereed journals, and (f) articles were published between 2000 and 2018. In addition, our review excluded literature reviews, editorials, and rejoinders. The abstracts of the articles meeting the criteria were examined and confirmed in order to be included in our review.
Our literature search based on the inclusion criteria produced 51 articles. As not all articles from the search satisfied the criteria, the articles were reviewed manually to evaluate whether they met the criteria, resulting in 35 articles not meeting criteria (e.g., conceptual articles, studies related to teachers) and 16 articles meeting all criteria. An additional literature search yielded two more studies meeting the inclusion criteria, identifying 18 studies in total. None of the identified research articles examined prevention or treatment interventions for burnout in school counselors. The 18 investigations had school counselor burnout or occupational stress as the constructs of interest. The research findings identified the positive relationships between school counselors’ burnout or occupational stress scores and the following factors: (a) non-counseling duties, (b) large caseloads, (c) not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP) status (i.e., the expected amount of students’ academic growth per year based on the No Child Left Behind mandate [Minnesota House of Representatives, 2003]), (d) lack of supervision, (e) emotion-oriented stress coping scores, (f) grit, and (g) perceived stress.
Fourteen out of 18 articles provided information related to school counselor burnout (see Table 1 for quantitative studies and Table 2 for qualitative studies), and the other four studies investigated school counselors’ occupational stress (see Table 3). Occupational stress refers to the strain a person experiences when the perceived stress in a workplace outweighs their ability to cope (Decker & Borgen, 1993). Quantitative research methods were employed in 15 of the investigations, two used mixed-methods, and one study utilized a qualitative approach. For all 18 articles, the participants were current school counselors, and the number of participants ranged from 3 to 926. Effect sizes were categorized depending on the analysis into three groups (i.e., small, medium, and large) based on the effect size matrix from Sink and Stroh (2006), offering a better understanding of the results. Specifically, the effect size from independent samples t-test (2 groups; Cohen’s d) is interpreted as small for 0.2, medium for 0.5, and large for 0.8. For the effect size of other analyses listed in this review, including paired-samples t-tests (η2), multiple regression (R2), and analysis of variance (ANOVA; η2), 0.01 is considered as small, 0.06 as medium, and 0.14 as large.
Summary of Quantitative/Mixed Studies Related to Professional School Counselor (PSC) Burnout
|Bain, Rueda, Mata-Villarreal, & Mundy (2011)
||PSCs in rural districts of South Texas
(N = 27)
|Mental health awareness, the amount of time spent on academic advising
|Feelings of burnout were reported by the majority of the PSCs (89%) in the study and many of them spent the greatest amount of time on administrative duties and the least on counseling.
|Bardhoshi, Schweinle, & Duncan (2014)
(N = 212)
|Non-counselor duties, school factors, five subscales of the CBI
||Non-counseling duties and school factors were associated with PSC burnout. Non-counseling duties explained the variance of the three burnout subscales: Exhaustion (11%; medium effect size), NWE (6%; medium effect size), and DPL (8%; medium effect size). Non-counseling duties and other factors (e.g., caseload, principal support) explained the variance of the four burnout subscales: Exhaustion (21%; large effect size), Incompetence (9%; medium effect size), NWE (49%; large effect size), and DPL (17%; large effect size).
|Butler & Constantine (2005)
(N = 533)
|Collective self-esteem, burnout, demographics
||Collective self-esteem explained 3% of the variance of PSC burnout (small effect size). In particular, PRCS (2%) and PUCS (1%) accounted for PA (both small effect sizes), and IICS explained 1% of feelings of DP and PA (both small effect sizes). Higher collective self-esteem was associated with lower PSC burnout. PSCs working in urban settings tended to have higher levels of burnout than the counterparts in other environmental settings. PSCs with experience of 20–29 years reported higher levels of burnout than the counterparts with 0–9 years of experience. PSCs with experience of 30 or more years reported higher levels of burnout than those with less experience.
|Gnilka, Karpinski, & Smith (2015)
(N = 269)
|Five subscales on the CBI
||Effect size differences were found between PSCs and other professionals in the counseling fields (Exhaustion, d = .26, small effect size; DC, d = -.50, medium effect size). Effect size differences were noted between PSCs and sexual offender and sexual abuse therapists (Exhaustion, d = .27, small effect size; DPL, d = -.23, small effect size; DC, d = -.82, large effect size).
(N = 218)
|Ego maturity, three subscales on the MBI-HSS
|PSCs with greater levels of ego maturity tended to have a higher level of PA than those with lower ego maturity. Ego maturity predicted PA (3.3%; small effect size). Occupational support and the subscales of burnout were correlated. Reported occupational support predicted EE (16%; large effect size), DP (12%; medium effect size), and PA (7.2%; medium effect size).
|Limberg, Lambie, & Robinson (2016-2017)
(N = 437)
|Altruistic motivation, altruistic behavior, burnout
||PSCs with greater levels of altruism had lower levels of EE and higher feelings of PA. PSC altruism explained 31.36% of the variance in EE (large effect size), and 29.16% of the variance in PA (large effect size). Self-Efficacy accounted for 14.4% of the variance in EE (large effect size) and 9% of the variance in PA (medium effect size).
(N = 382)
|Non-guidance activities, supervision, student-to-counselor ratios, five subscales of the CBI
||Non-guidance–related duties and clinical supervision were significant predictors of PSC burnout. Non-guidance duties (7.3%; medium effect size) and supervision (9%; medium effect size) predicted burnout.
|Mullen, Blount, Lambie, & Chae (2017)
(N = 750)
|Perceived stress, burnout, job satisfaction
||Perceived stress predicted burnout positively (large effect size) and job satisfaction negatively (large effect size). Perceived stress and burnout predicted job satisfaction (large effect size). Burnout mediated the relationship between perceived stress and job satisfaction.
|Mullen & Crowe (2018)
(N = 330)
|Grit, stress, burnout
||Grit was negatively related to burnout (small effect size) and stress (small to medium effect size).
|Mullen & Gutierrez (2016)
(N = 926)
|Burnout, perceived stress, direct student services
|Burnout attributed to direct counseling activities (12%; medium effect size), direct curriculum activities (5%; small to medium effect size), and percentage of time at work providing direct services to students (6%; medium effect size).
|Wachter, Clemens, & Lewis (2008)
(N = 249)
|Demographics, stakeholder involvement, lifestyle themes, burnout
||Burnout and lifestyle themes were associated. Perfectionism subscale was negatively related to burnout, and the Self-Esteem subscale was positively related to PSC burnout. About 15.1% of the variance in burnout was accounted for by the lifestyle themes of Self-Esteem and Perfectionism (large effect size).
|Wilkerson & Bellini (2006)
|PSCs in northeastern U.S.
(N = 78)
Systematic Random Sampling
|Demographics, intrapersonal, and organizational factors; three subscales on the MBI-ES
||Demographic (age, counseling experience, supervision, and student/counselor ratio), intrapersonal, and organizational factors significantly accounted for the amount of the variance in each subscale of burnout, including EE (45%; large effect size), DP (30%; large effect size), and PA (42%; large effect size).
(N = 198)
|Demographic and organizational stressors and individual coping strategies; three subscales on the MBI-ES
||Demographic factors (years of experience and student/counselor ratio), organizational stress, and coping styles explained the variance of each subscale of burnout including EE (49%; large effect size), DP (27%; large effect size), and PA (36%; large effect size).
Summary of Qualitative/Mixed Studies Related to Professional School Counselor Burnout
|Bain, Rueda, Mata-Villarreal, & Mundy (2011)
||PSCs in rural districts of South Texas (N = 27)
|Helpful ways to better provide mental health services at school
||Having access to additional staff and additional education and awareness in terms of helpful ways to provide mental health services at their school.
|Bardhoshi, Schweinle, & Duncan (2014)
(N = 252)
|a) Their experience of burnout
b) The meaning of performing non-counseling duties
|a) Lack of time, budgetary constraints, lack of resources, lack of organizational support, etc.
b) Adverse personal/professional effects, a reality of the job, reframing the duties within the context of the job.
|Sheffield & Baker (2005)
(N = 3)
||Important beliefs, burnout feelings, burnout attitude, (lack of) collegial support.
Summary of Quantitative Studies Related to Professional School Counselor Occupational Stress
|Bryant & Constantine (2006)
(N = 133)
|Role balance, job satisfaction, satisfaction with life, demographics
||Multiple role balance ability and job satisfaction positively predicted overall life satisfaction. Role balance and job satisfaction explained the variance of life satisfaction (41%; large effect size).
|Culbreth, Scarborough, Banks-Johnson, & Solomon (2005)
(N = 512)Stratified Random Sampling
|Role conflict, role ambiguity, role incongruence, demographics
||Perceived match between the job expectations and actual experiences predicted role-related job stress, including role conflict (7.6%; medium effect size); role incongruence (19.7%; large effect size); and role ambiguity (8.3%; medium effect size).
|McCarthy, Van Horn Kerne, Calfa, Lambert, & Guzmán (2010)
||PSCs in Texas
(N = 227) Convenient Sampling
|Demographics, job stress, resources and demands
||Job stress was different between the resourced, balanced, and demand groups. The effect sizes were large in the differences between the demand group and the resourced group (1.62; large effect size) and the balanced group (0.70; large effect size).
(N = 388)Convenient Sampling
|Demographics, mattering, job-related stress
||Thirty-five percent of the variance in overall job satisfaction was explained by mattering to others at work and job-related stress (large effect size). Mattering to others (19.36%; large effect size) and job-related stress (16.81%; large effect size) explained the variance in overall job satisfaction.
Three instruments were used to measure levels of school counselor burnout, including: (a) the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996), (b) the Counselor Burnout Inventory (CBI; S. M. Lee et al., 2007), and (c) the Burnout Measure Short Version (BMS; Malach-Pines, 2005). Maslach and Jackson (1981) defined burnout with three dimensions: Emotional Exhaustion (EE), Depersonalization (DP), and reduced Personal Accomplishment (PA). Emotional exhaustion is to exhaust one’s capacity to continuously involve with clients (R. T. Lee & Ashforth, 1996). Not being able to respond to clients’ needs may cause counselors to distance themselves from their job emotionally and cognitively, which is defined as depersonalization. Lastly, having a lower sense of effectiveness may reduce feelings of personal accomplishment (Maslach et al., 2001). Four studies used the MBI-Education Survey (MBI-ES), which was designed for the education population, and another study utilized the MBI-Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS), in which the word students from the MBI-ES is substituted with recipients in a third of the items (Sandoval, 1989).
Four studies used the CBI, which is a 20-item instrument with five subscales, including:
(a) Exhaustion, (b) Incompetence, (c) Negative Work Environment (NWE), (d) Devaluing Client (DC), and (e) Deterioration in Personal Life (DPL). Exhaustion is the condition of being physically and emotionally exhausted by the duties of a counselor, and incompetence focuses on counselors’ feelings of being incompetent. While negative work environment refers to the stress caused by the working environment, devaluing client is related to being unable to establish emotional connectedness with clients. Finally, deterioration in personal life assesses the level of deterioration in a counselor’s personal life. Sample items include “I feel exhausted due to my work as a counselor,” and “I feel I have poor boundaries between work and my personal life.” The internal consistency of the CBI ranged from .73 to .85 (S. M. Lee et al., 2007). In addition, three studies used the BMS (Malach-Pines, 2005), a 10-item scale in which participants rate their answers to the question “When you think about your work overall, how often do you feel the following?” in seven prompts, including: “Trapped,” “Hopeless,” and “Helpless.” The BMS is adapted from the original version of the Burnout Measure (Pines & Aronson, 1988). The internal consistency of the BMS ranged from .85 to .87 (Malach-Pines, 2005).
Researchers investigated different factors relating to school counselor burnout within the 18 published articles. One of the studies provided descriptive statistics of school counselor burnout, comparing school counselors to other mental health professionals and showing how burnout symptoms may emerge (N = 269; Gnilka, Karpinski, & Smith, 2015). School counselors had greater levels of Exhaustion (d = .26; small effect size) and lower levels of DC (d = -.50; medium effect size) than mental health professional participants. Furthermore, school counselors had greater levels of Exhaustion (d = .27; small effect size) and lower levels of DC (d = -.82; large effect size) compared to the mental health professional participants working with sex offenders and clients that have been sexually abused. Therefore, school counselors score higher in exhaustion as compared to other mental health professionals and score lower on devaluing their clients.
Individual Factors Related to Burnout
The two categories of individual factors relating to school counselor burnout were (a) psychological constructs and (b) demographic factors. The psychological constructs included ego maturity (Lambie, 2007), collective self-esteem (Butler & Constantine, 2005), altruism (Limberg, Lambie, & Robinson, 20162017), lifestyle themes (Wachter, Clemens, & Lewis, 2008), coping styles (Wilkerson, 2009), perceived stress (Mullen, Blount, Lambie, & Chae, 2017), and grit (Mullen & Crowe, 2018). The definitions of these psychological constructs related to school counselor burnout follow.
Ego maturity refers to the fundamental element of an individual’s personality, encompassing components of self, social, cognitive, character, and moral development (Loevinger, 1976). When individuals’ egos develop, they become more individualistic, autonomous, and highly aware of themselves (Loevinger, 1976). Collective self-esteem is individuals’ perception of their identification with the social group they belong to (Bettencourt & Dorr, 1997). Altruism is the behavior driven by values or goals individuals possess or their concerns for others, aside from external rewards (Eisenberg et al., 1999). A lifestyle is an individual’s way of perceiving self, others, and the world (Mosak & Maniacci, 2000), and lifestyle themes refer to common patterns people possess in relation to their lifestyles (Mosak, 1971). Coping is defined as cognitive and behavioral efforts to deal with specific demands that take up or exceed individuals’ resources (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), and coping styles refer to individuals’ relatively stable patterns in handling stress (Heszen-Niejodek, 1997). Perceived stress represents the extent to which individuals evaluate their situations as stressful (Cohen, 1986). Grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007, p. 1087). Specifically, grit refers to efforts to achieve a goal despite challenges. In addition to psychological constructs, the demographic factors category included years of experience in school counseling (Butler & Constantine, 2005; Wilkerson, 2009; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006) and age (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006).
Psychological constructs. Seven studies identified that psychological constructs relate to school counselors’ feelings of burnout. Five of seven factors had large effect sizes, including ego maturity, altruism, lifestyle themes, coping styles, and grit, and three of the factors with large effect sizes were associated with Emotional Exhaustion (EE) among the MBI (Maslach et al., 1996) subscale scores (i.e., ego maturity, altruism, and coping styles).
Specifically, Lambie (2007) examined the directional relationship between school counselors’
(N = 218) burnout and ego maturity, identifying that those counselors with higher levels of ego maturity were likely to have greater feelings of Personal Accomplishment (PA; R2 = .033). The researcher also investigated the relationship between the school counselors’ reported occupational support and their MBI burnout subscales scores (Maslach & Jackson, 1996), identifying that each MBI subscale relates to the participants’ levels of reported occupational support; EE (large effect size; R2 = .167); DP (medium effect size; R2 = .120); and PA (medium effect size; R2 = .072). The results indicated that school counselors scoring at higher ego maturity levels had lower feelings of burnout, and counselors experiencing high levels of occupational support had significantly lower burnout scores.
The relationship between burnout and collective self-esteem was investigated within a sample of school counselors (N = 533; Butler & Constantine, 2005). The Collective Self-Esteem Scale has four subscales (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992), including (a) Private Collective Self-Esteem (PRCS), (b) Public Collective Self-Esteem (PUCS), (c) Membership Collective Self-Esteem (MCS), and (d) Importance to Identity Collective Self-Esteem (IICS). These subscales measure individuals’ perception of social groups they belong to, including how they feel about the group (PRCS), how they perceive others feel about the group (PUCS), how they perceive themselves being a good member of the group (MCS), and how important their social group is to their self-concept (IICS). These four Collective Self-Esteem Scale subscales explained 3% of the variance in the burnout subscales (Pillai’s trace = .08, F [12, 1584] = 3.48, p < .001, η2M = .03; Maslach & Jackson, 1986).
In general, higher collective self-esteem relates to lower levels of burnout, and different dimensions of collective self-esteem relate to different components of burnout. Higher PRCS was associated with higher feelings of PA (η2 = .02), and higher PUCS was related to lower levels of EE (η2 = .01). The school counselors’ IICS subscale scores were related to their lower feelings of DP (η2 = .01) and greater feelings of PA (η2 = .01). Although a small amount of variance in burnout scores (.01–.02) was explained by the components of collective self-esteem, the positive relationship between higher PRCS and higher feelings of PA identified that positive perceptions of the group school counselors belong to might reduce their feelings of burnout. For instance, having a sense of pride as a school counselor by observing other school counselors’ hard work and good relationships with students may promote their sense of PRCS, which may lead to higher feelings of PA. Taken together, promoting school counselors’ collective self-esteem may decrease their feelings of burnout.
Limberg and colleagues (2016–2017) investigated the directional relationship between school counselors’ (N = 437) levels of altruism and burnout. The school counselors with greater levels of altruism had lower levels of EE and higher feelings of PA. Specifically, the altruism subscales of Positive Future Expectation (PFE) and Self-Efficacy from the Self-Report Altruism Scale (Rushton, Chrisjohn, & Fekken, 1981) and two subscales of burnout (MBI) correlated (χ2 = 403.611, df = 216, χ2 ratio = 1.869, p < .001). PFE and Self-Efficacy accounted for 31.36% of the variance in the EE subscale (large effect size), and 29.16% of the variance in the PA subscale (large effect size). The Self-Efficacy subscale, which involves individuals’ perceived competence in a certain skill, explained 14.4% of the variance in EE subscale scores (large effect size), and 9% of the variance in PA subscale scores (medium effect size). Therefore, the results identified that school counselors’ levels of altruism negatively contribute to their burnout scores.
Burnout was related to lifestyle themes among school counselors (N = 249; Wachter et al., 2008). Two subscales of lifestyle themes from the Kern Lifestyle Scale (Kern, 1996), Self-Esteem and Perfectionism, accounted for 15.1% of the variance in burnout (large effect size; R2 = .151). Specifically, the Perfectionism subscale was negatively related to school counselor burnout scores (Burnout Measure: Short Version; BMS; Malach-Pines, 2005), and the Self-Esteem subscale was positively related to school counselor burnout. As a result, these findings identified school counselors’ personality factors relating to their risk of burnout, supporting that higher levels of perfectionism and lower levels of self-esteem may increase the likelihood of experiencing burnout.
Two studies employed hierarchical regression analyses to examine what factors may predict burnout subscale scores of the MBI, and one of the predicting variables was coping styles (Wilkerson, 2009; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006). Wilkerson (2009) used four-step hierarchical regression models that included demographics, organizational stressors, and coping strategies, such as task-oriented, emotion-oriented, and avoidance-oriented coping (N = 198). The models with large effect sizes explained all three MBI burnout subscales. Specifically, 49% of the variance in the EE subscale was explained (large effect size; R2 = .49); 27% of the variance in the DP subscale was accounted for (large effect size; R2 = .27); and 36% of the variance of the PA subscale was explained (large effect size; R2 = .36). The results identified school counselors’ stressor scores both at the individual and organizational levels; intrapersonal coping strategies contributed to feelings of burnout with large effect sizes in the final model. In other words, demographic factors (e.g., more school counseling experience), coping styles (e.g., more emotion-oriented and less task-oriented coping strategies), and organizational variables (e.g., lack of decision-making authority, role ambiguity, role incongruity, and role conflict) positively predicted the level of burnout among school counselors.
Wilkerson and Bellini (2006) used three-step hierarchical regression models including demographic, intrapersonal, and organizational factors to examine the relationship between the variables and burnout among school counselors (N = 78). The school counselors’ demographic data (e.g., age, counseling experience, supervision, and student/counselor ratio), and intrapersonal (i.e., coping strategies) and organizational factors (e.g., role conflict, role ambiguity, and counselor occupational stress) significantly accounted for the variance in their burnout subscale scores on the MBI. Specifically, 45% of the variance in the EE subscale was explained (large effect size; R2 = .45), 30% of the variance in the DP subscale was accounted for (large effect size; R2 = .30), and 42% of the variance in the PA subscale was explained (large effect size; R2 = .42) by the final three-step model with the variables (i.e., counselor demographics, intrapersonal factors, and organizational factors). The findings indicated that school counselors’ emotion-oriented coping style predicted their three MBI subscale scores, supporting the importance of utilizing helpful strategies (i.e., task-oriented coping) to mitigate counselors’ feelings of burnout.
Another study examined how school counselors’ perceived stress and job satisfaction relate to burnout (Mullen et al., 2017). Specifically, perceived stress measured by the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983) explained 52% of the variance in burnout (F (1, 749) = 808.55, p < .001; R2 = .52) and 25% of the variance in job satisfaction (F (1, 749) = 243.36, p < .001; R2 = .25). When both perceived stress and burnout were examined in order to test the relationship with job satisfaction, they explained 40% of the variance in job satisfaction (F (2, 747) = 246.48, p < .001; R2 = .40). In addition, the results indicated that burnout mediated the relationship between perceived stress and job satisfaction (z = -21.47, p < .001), and burnout (rs = .99) predicted job satisfaction better than perceived stress (rs = .79). Overall, perceived stress predicted burnout positively (large effect size) and job satisfaction negatively (large effect size). Both perceived stress and burnout predicted job satisfaction (large effect size).
Finally, Mullen and Crowe (2018) investigated the relationship between grit, burnout, and stress among school counselors (N = 330). The researchers found that grit was negatively correlated with burnout (r = -.22, p < .001) and stress (r = -.28, p < .001). Specifically, perseverance of effort, one of the subscales from the Grit-S (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009), was negatively related with burnout (r = -.12,
p < .05) and stress (r = -.19, p < .001). Therefore, school counselors’ level of grit may be a protective factor for burnout and stress.
Demographic factors. School counselors’ individual factors, such as age (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006) and years of experience (Butler & Constantine, 2005; Wilkerson, 2009), correlate with feelings of burnout. Age was negatively correlated to the DP subscale (r = -.19, p < .05); therefore, older school counselors were less likely to experience burnout as compared to younger counselors (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006). Nevertheless, the correlation between school counselors’ years of experience and burnout was inconsistent. Wilkerson and Bellini (2006) indicated that years of experience negatively correlated with the EE (r = -.26, p < .01), and DP (r = -.24, p < .05) subscales, while Butler and Constantine (2005) identified that school counselors with more years of experience scored at higher levels of burnout (MBI scores). Specifically, school counselors with 20–29 years of experience had greater DP subscale scores than those with 0–9 years of experience (F (3, 529) = 3.38, p < .05); and counselors with 30 years or more of experience had lower PA subscale scores than those with less than 20 years of experience (F (3, 529) = 3.39, p < .05). Furthermore, Wilkerson (2009) also reported that the years of experience positively correlated with the EE (ß = .21, p < .01) and DP (ß = .26, p < .01) MBI subscales in the hierarchical regression models whose variables included counselor demographics and organizational and intrapersonal variables to explain the variance of the burnout scores. Possible reasons behind the incongruent results may relate to school counselors’ role ambiguity, as counselors with less experience may experience or perceive large workloads compared to more experienced counselors. The conflicting results also may be related to other school counselor factors, such as the level of social support counselors experience at their schools. The findings identified the need for more inquiry to increase our understanding of the relationship between school counselors’ years of experience and their feelings of burnout.
Organizational Factors Relating to School Counselors Levels of Burnout
Eight organizational factors appear to correlate with school counselors’ levels of burnout, including (a) workplace (Butler & Constantine, 2005), (b) non-counseling duties such as administrative and clerical tasks (Bardhoshi et al., 2014; Moyer, 2011), (c) caseloads (Bardhoshi et al., 2014), (d) AYP (Bardhoshi et al., 2014), (e) level of principal support (Bardhoshi et al., 2014), (f) clinical supervision (Moyer, 2011), (g) student-to-counselor ratio (Wilkerson, 2009; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006), (h) perceived work environment (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006), and (i) direct student services (Mullen & Gutierrez, 2016). We categorize these organizational factors into two domains: (a) job responsibilities and
(b) work environment factors.
Job responsibilities. Two studies examined the relationship between school counselors’ non-counseling duties and their burnout scores. First, Bardhoshi and colleagues (2014) examined school counselors’ (N = 212) non-counseling duties and identified a significant relationship between three of the CBI subscales: (a) 11% of the variance in Exhaustion was explained (medium effect size; R2 = 0.11); (b) 6% of the variance in NWE was explained (medium effect size; R2 = 0.06); and (c) 8% of the variance in DPL was explained (medium effect size; R2 = 0.08). Taken together, the results identified that school counselors’ non-counseling duties positively predict their burnout scores.
Moyer (2011) examined how school counselors’ (N = 382) non-counseling duties (non-guidance duties) were correlated to their levels of burnout as measured by the CBI. School counselors’ non-counseling duties accounted for 7.3% of the variance in the burnout score (medium effect size; R2 = .073, ß = .27, p < .01). Receiving supervision accounted for additional variance in school counselors’ burnout scores after controlling the variance explained by non-counseling activities (medium effect size; R2 = .09, ß = -.14, p < .01). As a result, school counselors with more non-counseling duties and less clinical supervision had higher burnout scores. The findings identify the importance of clinical supervision to reduce burnout among school counselors, helping them improve their quality of counseling, which in turn may increase their sense of competence in the workplace.
Bain and colleagues (2011) investigated the mental health of school counselors in a rural setting and their percentage of workweek spent on counseling and administrative duties in South Texas (N = 27). Within this sample of school counselors, 89% had experienced feelings of burnout at least sometimes when trying to provide mental health services; specifically, 41% reported feelings of burnout, and 48% sometimes experienced burnout when providing mental health services to their students. School counselors also reported that they spent the greatest amount of time completing administrative duties and the least amount of time providing counseling services. About 48% of the counselors used more than 50% of their time completing administrative duties, such as organizing facts to report to administrators and preparing for assessments of knowledge and skills, and more than 70% of the participants spent less than 50% of their time providing counseling services. The sample size for this study was small; nevertheless, the results identified that approximately 90% of the school counselors experienced some levels of burnout and spent less time providing counseling services to their students and other stakeholders than completing administrative duties.
Finally, Mullen and Gutierrez (2016) investigated the relationship between burnout and direct student services of school counselors (N = 926). The results indicated that burnout negatively contributed to the frequency of direct counseling activities (ß = -.35, p < .001), direct curriculum activities (ß = -.22, p < .001), and percentage of time at work providing direct services to students (ß = -.24, p < .001). The findings suggest that school counselors experiencing feelings of burnout are likely to have lower numbers of direct counseling activities and curriculum activities, and spend less time offering direct services to students.
Work environment factors. School counselors’ levels of burnout may be different depending on the location of their workplace (Butler & Constantine, 2005). Specifically, school counselors working in urban settings scored higher on the EE subscale as compared to counselors in suburban, rural, and other settings (F (3, 529) = 24.66, p < .001). In addition, counselors in urban settings had higher DP subscale scores than those in other environmental settings (F (3, 529) = 13.67, p < .001). The results may relate to unique stressors school counselors in the urban settings face, including their expected proficiency in working with diverse students (Constantine et al., 2001). Overall, school counselors in urban settings were likely to experience greater feelings of burnout than those counselors in other settings, suggesting that more research is warranted to better understand possible contributors to these educators having higher MBI scores.
Factors relating to school counselors’ work correlating with their feelings of burnout include counselors’ caseloads, AYP status, principal support, and non-counseling duties. Specifically, school-related factors for counselors explained the variance of four burnout subscales of the CBI (Bardhoshi et al., 2014): (a) 21% of the variance in Exhaustion scores was explained (large effect size; R2 = 0.21, p < .001); (b) 9% of the variance in Incompetence scores was explained (medium effect size; R2 = 0.09, p < .01); (c) 49% of the variance in NWE scores was explained (large effect size; R2 = 0.49, p < .001); and (d) 17% of the variance in DPL scores was explained (large effect size; R2 = 0.17, p < .001). As a result, both school counselors’ work-related factors, such as caseloads and non-counseling duties, and their school environment (support from school staff and AYP status) correlate to their feelings of burnout. Therefore, providing sufficient support for school counselors, meeting the AYP, and reducing caseloads and non-counseling duties might mitigate feelings of burnout among school counselors.
Student-to-counselor ratio (Wilkerson, 2009) and perceived work environment (e.g., role conflict; Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006) were identified as predictive factors for school counselor burnout. Wilkerson (2009) found that the hierarchical regression models with variables of demographic data (e.g., years of experience), organizational stressors (e.g., counselor–teacher professional relationships), and coping strategies (e.g., task-oriented coping) explained all three subscale scores of the MBI in a sample of school counselors (N = 198): EE (R2 = .49; large effect size), DP (R2 = .27; large effect size), and PA (R2 = 36; large effect size). Similarly, Wilkerson and Bellini (2006) identified that school counselors’ demographic, intrapersonal, and organizational factors accounted for variance in all three MBI subscale scores, including the EE, DP, and PA subscales (45%, 30%, and 42%, respectively; all large effect sizes). The findings from these studies support that environmental factors relate to school counselor burnout.
Identified Themes From Qualitative Studies
One qualitative study and two mixed-methods studies explored themes relating to school counselor burnout and ways to improve their service, which may offer ways to prevent burnout. Bardhoshi and colleagues (2014) examined how school counselors experienced burnout. Specifically, the emergent themes identified for school counselors’ feelings of burnout organized around four areas including (a) lack of time, (b) budgetary constraints, (c) lack of resources, and (d) lack of organizational support. When school counselors were asked about the meaning of performing non-counseling duties, they stated adverse personal and professional effects, the realities of practice, and reframing the duties within the context of the job. One participant described burnout stating, “It means that I am no longer helpful to my students. I feel like I’m extremely tired and overworked and consequently my effectiveness as a school counselor is negatively impacted” (p. 437).
These themes aligned with existing qualitative research examining school counselors’ feelings of burnout (N = 3; Sheffield & Baker, 2005), including (a) important beliefs, (b) burnout feelings, (c) burnout attitude, and (d) lack of collegial support. One of the participants stated, “I didn’t think I was doing any good for anybody . . . I just can’t go on this way” (p. 181). Another participant stated, “You get to the point where it is no longer fun coming to work or when you are just tired [and] don’t want to deal with anyone” (p. 182). Finally, Bain and colleagues (2011) explored helpful ways to better provide mental health services at school with 27 school counselors in rural districts of South Texas. The results identified that having access to more staff and additional education and awareness of mental health services at their school was needed. Overall, these studies identified common themes of school counselors’ need for collegial support and resources, such as a school climate encouraging collaboration, and identifying gaps in the needs and realities of school counselors (Bardhoshi et al., 2014), as well as reducing the amount of stressful, non-counseling–related work they perform.
Researchers examined which factors may influence school counselors’ job stress or job satisfaction, including (a) counselors’ perceived match between job expectations and their actual experiences (Culbreth et al., 2005), (b) the amount of resources in their work environment (McCarthy et al., 2010), (c) mattering to others (Rayle, 2006), and (d) role balance ability (Bryant & Constantine, 2006). Perceived match between initial expectations of the job and actual experiences as a school counselor was the most significant predictor of lower role stress demonstrated by each subscale score of the Role Questionnaire (N = 512; Culbreth et al., 2005): role conflict (medium effect size; R2 = .076); role incongruence (large effect size; R2 = .197); and role ambiguity (medium effect size; R2 = .083). School counseling students reported not feeling trained enough because of the significant amount of non-counseling–related duties, which increased their sense of role conflict.
Graduating from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accounted for 1.2% of the variance in school counselors’ perceived readiness for the job (small effect size; r = .111, p < .05; Culbreth et al., 2005). School counselors’ balance between job demand and resources was another important factor for their job stress. Moreover, McCarthy and colleagues (2010) identified that perceived job stress and work environment in terms of demands and resources were correlated (N = 227; F (2, 206) = 44.77, p < .001). School counselors with resources, such as other counselors in general or as mentors, and support from administrators scored lower on levels of job stress. The effect size for the difference between the demand and the resourced groups was 1.62 (large effect size), and between the demand and balanced groups was 0.70 (large effect size). In other words, school counselors with more work-related resources were likely to experience lower levels of job stress.
Several factors are related to job satisfaction for school counselors. Rayle (2006) investigated the relationship between school counselors’ (N = 388) mattering to others at work scores and job-related stress scores, and their overall job satisfaction scores. The School Counselor Mattering Survey developed for this study included seven items asking participants to rate their perceived mattering to others, including their students, administrators, and the parents and teachers they worked with. School counselors’ mattering to others at work scores and job-related stress scores explained 35% of the variance in their overall job satisfaction (large effect size; ηp² = .62). Specifically, school counselors’ job satisfaction correlated with mattering to others at work scores (large effect size; r = .44, p < .001) and their job-related stress scores (large effect size; r = -.41, p < .001). In addition, school counselors’ mattering to others scores were negatively associated with their job-related stress scores (r = -.54, p < .001; large effect size). The findings suggest that school counselors’ perceived mattering to others at work and job-related stress predict their overall job satisfaction, and mattering to others at work relates to their job-related stress.
In addition, Bryant and Constantine (2006) investigated the relationship between female school counselors’ (N = 133) role balance, job satisfaction, and life satisfaction. After controlling for demographic information (age, years of school counseling experience, and location of school), role balance and job satisfaction scores correlated with their satisfaction with life scores (large effect size; R2 = .41). As a result, school counselors’ multiple role balance ability and job satisfaction scores positively predicted their overall life satisfaction scores. In sum, these findings identified factors related to school counselors’ job satisfaction, including mattering to others at work, job-related stress, and life satisfaction.
Because of the dearth of literature examining school counselor burnout or occupational stress, we reviewed 18 investigations based on the inclusion criteria and included articles focusing on the topic that were published between 2000 and 2018 in refereed journals and identified internal and external factors relating to the phenomena. Specific factors were identified relating to school counselor burnout or stress and their environment, including responsibilities not related to counseling, large caseloads, AYP status, and role confusion. The findings suggest the importance of school counselors asserting themselves to focus on mandated tasks (i.e., counseling) in order to experience less burnout. In addition, it is imperative to train school counseling students to understand the reality of practice, such as other job responsibilities and school climates, and inform them on the necessity of counselors advocating for themselves in order to overcome role confusion and avoid large caseloads. Furthermore, several resources were identified to mitigate burnout among school counselors. Clinical supervision from a competent supervisor is essential for school counselors to get support and learn how to intervene with their clients effectively. In addition, peer supervision or consultation from colleagues may benefit school counselors in sharing their difficulties and gaining other professionals’ perspectives (Butler & Constantine, 2005). Task-oriented coping skills which can be learned in the school counseling programs were also related to a reduced level of burnout among school counselors.
Our review needs to be interpreted with some caution, as it is limited to the 18 published studies meeting the inclusion criteria. Therefore, additional research investigating school counselor burnout is needed to further our understanding of this significant construct that may influence the services school counselors provide to their stakeholders. In addition, the reviewed studies include methodological limitations (e.g., sample size, self-report data), further supporting the need for increased research examining the construct of burnout in school counseling. Moreover, no research was identified examining interventions to possibly reduce counselor feelings of burnout.
Implications for School Counseling
Although no studies were identified that investigated treatments for school counselor burnout, research from other similar professions may provide insight for developing coping strategies for school counselors addressing their feelings of burnout. Awa, Plaumann, and Walter (2010) reviewed 25 intervention studies for burnout prevention whose participants included employees from diverse occupations. Seventeen out of 25 studies employed person-directed interventions and indicated the positive effects of the interventions, including cognitive behavioral training (Gorter, Eijkman, & Hoogstraten, 2001), psychosocial skill training (Ewers, Bradshaw, McGovern, & Ewers, 2002), and recreational music making (Bittman, Bruhn, Stevens, Westengard, & Umbach, 2003). Two studies used organization-directed interventions, and one of the studies reduced burnout by using cognitive behavioral techniques, management skill training, and social support (Halbesleben, Osburn, & Mumford, 2006). The other six investigations explored the effects of combined (person- and organization-directed) interventions in reducing burnout. The examples of combined interventions to mitigate counselors’ feeling of burnout include professional supervision (Melchior et al., 1996); work schedule reorganization and lectures (Innstrand, Espnes, & Mykletun, 2004); and participatory action research, communication, social support, and coping skills (Le Blanc, Hox, Schaufeli, Taris, & Peeters, 2007). Overall, Awa and colleagues (2010) identified positive impacts of burnout intervention programs, suggesting potential benefits of these treatment programs for school counselors.
In addition, Krasner and colleagues (2009) reported the effectiveness of their continuing medical education program for physicians to reduce burnout, which involves mindfulness, self-awareness, and communication skills. Educating for mindfulness strategies, self-awareness, and communication skills also may be helpful for school counselors. Providing a supportive environment and acknowledging school counselors’ work may help them increase their sense of matter in their workplace. Lacking empirical studies identifying treatment outcomes for burnout in school counselors, research on decreasing the level of school counselor burnout should be examined both deeply and extensively. Furthermore, intervention programs to prevent and intervene with school counselors’ burnout and occupational stress at the individual and organizational levels are warranted. The efforts to prevent burnout may lead to school counselors providing better quality of services, benefitting the counselors and the students they serve.
Our review indicated that school counselors’ responsibilities, such as non-counseling duties and dealing with large caseloads, hindered counselors from maintaining their wellness. Additionally, experiencing role conflict and employing emotion-oriented coping skills increased their feelings of burnout. Therefore, school counselor preparation programs need to incorporate into their curriculum the characteristics of their future work environment that may involve potential risk factors for burnout. Furthermore, developing school counselors’ own strategies and practicing beneficial skills such as task-oriented coping skills may be helpful for them in decreasing their likelihood of experiencing burnout.
Preventing and reducing school counselors’ feelings of burnout is important to ensure counselors’ ability to provide ethical and effective services to their stakeholders. Failure to address work-related stress in school counselors may cause reduced quality of their service and increased counselor attrition from the profession. Although more investigations examining burnout in school counselors are warranted, this manuscript is the first systematic review of burnout in school counseling, offering increased insight into this significant job-related psychological phenomenon.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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