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Professional Ethics: Avoiding Burnout. Presented By Chip Abernathy, LPC, MAC. Competence Is the Issue. Avoiding burnout and professionals’ self-care is often discussed in the area of professional ethics Competence to perform our work is the issue

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professional ethics avoiding burnout

Professional Ethics:Avoiding Burnout

Presented By

Chip Abernathy, LPC, MAC

competence is the issue
Competence Is the Issue

Avoiding burnout and professionals’ self-care is often discussed in the area of professional ethics

Competence to perform our work is the issue

How well we take care of ourselves affects the client who seeks our help


For the sake of consistency in this presentation, counselors will be the professionals noted in the examples given. However, any helping professional could be used in the examples, i.e. doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, etc.

burnout syndrome
Burnout Syndrome

Maslach and Jackson (1981) define burnout as

  • a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced feelings of accomplishment that affects individuals in the helping professions
emotional exhaustion
Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion involves feelings of being emotionally drained by one’s job

emotional exhaustion patient perceptions
Emotional Exhaustion – Patient Perceptions

What does emotional exhaustion look like or sound like to patients? My counselor…

  • Has mentioned changing careers
  • Seems depressed
  • Seems drained and fatigued
  • Seems frustrated by his job
  • Seems to be at the end of her rope

Depersonalization involves the development of negative, cynical attitudes towards clients

depersonalization patient perceptions
Depersonalization – Patient Perceptions

What does depersonalization look like or sound like to patients? My counselor…

  • Doesn’t seem to care about me
  • Seems to view patients negatively
  • Blames me for my problems
  • Cuts interactions short
  • Doesn’t listen very closely to me
reduced personal accomplishment
Reduced Personal Accomplishment

Reduced personal accomplishment is characterized by feelings of ineffectiveness in one’s professional role

reduced personal accomplishment patient perceptions
Reduced Personal Accomplishment – Patient Perceptions

What does reduced personal accomplishment look like or sound like to patients? My counselor…

  • Doesn’t seem very energetic
  • Is tense during interactions
  • Gets rattled easily by the problems I bring up
  • Is sometimes sarcastic towards me
  • Frowns, sighs, rolls his eyes at me
  • Leans away from me and seems disinterested in my problems
expectations of the professional
Expectations of the Professional

Clients come to professionals with hope that the relationship with the professional will help to make their lives better

That is a reasonable expectation

We are expected to be competent to do our job

potential consequences of burnout
Potential Consequences of Burnout

Burned out professionals provide ineffective treatment

That ineffective treatment leads to

  • High drop-out rates
  • Lack of progress in treatment
  • Legal and ethical liabilities
  • Danger to health, safety and welfare of clients
burnout and perception
Burnout and Perception

Burnout affects how professionals view patients and themselves, and this affects how professionals interact with clients

Additionally, burnout affects how patients view professionals, view themselves, and view the therapeutic relationship

what kind of shape are you in
What Kind of Shape Are You In?

Our ability to put forth the energy, attentiveness, and best use of our skills towards helping a client is largely determined by what kind of shape we are in…

  • Physically
  • Mentally
  • Spiritually

We can reduce stress and enhance our effectiveness, both personally and professionally, by attending to all these life areas

how does burnout happen
How Does Burnout Happen?

Helping professionals become burned out the same way people in other professions do…

  • We take on too much,
  • We feel underappreciated, and
  • We feel helpless to change things

We reach a state of mental exhaustion caused by the perception of being overwhelmed

Burnout is a reaction to stress

warning signs of professional burnout
Warning Signs of Professional Burnout

Some signs of burnout include…

  • Losing interest and meaning in your work
  • Distancing from others
  • Increasing irritability
  • Reduced productivity
  • Feeling trapped and unable to do anything about it
  • Cynicism, fatigue, feeling drained
  • Feeling “oppressed” by the system at work
job burnout symptoms questions
Are you more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work?

Do you drag yourself into work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?

Are you less patient and more irritable with co-workers?

Are you using food, alcohol/other drugs, or compulsive behaviors to feel better or to not feel?

Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?

Job Burnout Symptoms Questions
job burnout symptoms questions continued
Do you feel insurmountable barriers at work?

Do you lack the energy to be productive?

Do you have a hard time laughing at yourself?

Do you have unexplained headaches, neck pain or lower back pain?

A ‘yes’ could indicate burnout - or a mental health issue such as depression which needs professional attention

Job Burnout Symptoms Questions (Continued)
what i can do
What I Can Do

In order to avoid or to recover from burnout, weneed to look at

  • what we can do
  • rather than what we cannotdo to deal with our problems
burnout prevention
Burnout Prevention

Taking steps to prevent burnout is the best way to avoid it

  • Practice good stress management on a daily basis
  • Know the warning signs for burnout
  • Have management strategies in place should warning signs appear
management strategies for burnout professional area of your life
Management Strategies for Burnout –Professional Area of Your Life

Professional Area

  • Consult with colleagues and have clinical or peer supervision regularly
  • Have a variety of therapeutic approaches
  • Belong to a professional organization
  • Stay current on ethical standards and changes in laws
management strategies professional area continued
Management Strategies – Professional Area (Continued)
  • Avoid dual relationships
  • Document well
  • Have continuing education
  • Seek therapy as needed
management strategies for burnout personal area of your life
Management Strategies for Burnout –Personal Area of Your Life

Personal Area

  • Be aware of how you are doing physically, mentally and spiritually
  • Make the effort to take care of yourself when concerns arise
  • Pay attention especially to learning sound stress management skills and practice those skills
taking care of myself physically
Taking Care of Myself –Physically

Some ways that I can take care or myself physically are to

  • Eat a nutritious diet
  • Exercise
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink enough water
  • Have regular checkups with my doctors and my dentist - follow their advice – and see other practitioners as needed
taking care of myself mentally
Taking Care of Myself – Mentally

I can take care of my mental health by

  • Making time for family and friends
  • Expressing my thoughts, feelings and needs
  • Taking vacations, honoring time off planned
  • Having hobbies
  • Making fun a priority
  • Doing enjoyable things
  • Being open to new learning
  • So many other ways – name a few of your own
taking care of myself spiritually
Taking Care of Myself –Spiritually

Some ways I can enhance my spiritual health are to

  • Be flexible
  • Be honest
  • Be curious – remain teachable
  • Practice spiritual principles, esp. love, kindness, open-mindedness, willingness
  • Practice prayer and meditation
  • Help others
it all works together
It All Works Together

Body, mind, and spirit all work together

When I am taking care of my body, my mind and my spirit, I am less likely to become burned out and more likely to be effective and competent as a professional


In his book The Road Less Traveled (p. 11)

M. Scott Peck, M.D. asserts that there is “no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth. They are one and the same.”

stress management
Stress Management

Learning and practicing sound stress management skills are key factors in preventing and recovering from burnout. Some tried and true stress management skills include…

  • Exercising regularly
  • Meditation
  • Conscious contact with a Higher Power
  • Connecting with people I enjoy
  • Massage
  • Changing my thinking and attitude

Creating balance in life enhances burnout prevention and management. Create balance between…

  • Giving and receiving
  • Attention to family and attention to work
  • Involvement and detachment
  • Awareness of power and awareness of powerlessness
  • The client’s needs and my needs
  • Time spent with people and time spent alone

Keith-Speigel, P., & Koocher, G.P. Ethics in psychology: Professional standards and cases. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985, p. 241

McCarthy, W.C. Negative aspects of therapy: Client perceptions of therapists’ social influence, burnout, and quality of care. Journal of Social Issues, Spring, 1999

Maslach, C.,& Jackson, S.E. The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2(2), 99-113, 1981

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Job burnout: Understand symptoms and take action.


National Institutes of Health. Stress management., updated 2-6-08

Peck, M.S. The road less traveled: A new psychology of love, traditional values, and spiritual growth. New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 1, 1978

Zur, O. Taking care of the caretaker: How to avoid psychotherapists’ burnout.