Counselor Self-Care Series: 12 Signs of Counselor Burnout

Last updated: April 2020

I have been working in the social services field since 2005. Currently, I own and operate the website counseling4counselor that promotes self care for the mental health professional.

-Counselor Chris P., M.A. (Christal Pennic)

Counselor Burnout

One of the best pieces of information that was shared with me by a professor in graduate school was that it is a good idea for counselors to have a counselor. There are reasons why people get into the counseling field. Many may enter the field because they want to be a change agent for certain or many different populations. There may have experienced personal traumas in their lives or a certain event that caused a person to be interested in psychology, behavioral intervention, counseling, or any of those titles in mental health. Some were interested in the field due to the many things that one can do.

The field of counseling is very flexible and it has its opportunity to make a true difference in the lives of those suffering from mental health illnesses. Being a counselor could save many lives as it has been true for myself. All those can be reasons why an individual sought to be a counselor; however while working in the field and attempting to find a niche, reality has a way of intruding. When counselors neglect themselves holistically, it can lead to burnout and ultimately have them questioning why the even entered into the field of social services in the first place.

There are many ways to tell if a counselor is burned out. If you feel any of these symptoms or notice a coworker or an employee exhibiting these symptoms, it is best to communicate and assist yourself or anyone else immediately.

Some of the signs include:

  1. An increase of absences from work
  2. Forgetting to attend important meetings or sessions
  3. Continuously checking out and disengaging in sessions and meetings
  4. Complaints of physical ailments that relate to depression and anxiety: such as headaches, heartburn, sweating, crying, fatigue, lack of sleep, nightmares, anxiety attacks, neck aches, back aches, etc. Especially surrounding Sunday nights and Monday mornings
  5. Excessive weight gain or loss
  6. Having to take psychotropic medications to be able to function on the job.
  7. Unusually inappropriate responses in meetings or sessions (cussing, randomness, overly joking, crude remarks)
  8. Frequent canceling sessions with clients
  9. Avoiding supervisors/co-workers
  10. Increase in careless mistakes on paperwork or work that is continuously left undone
  11. Daydreaming about alternate jobs and careers
  12. Feeling of emptiness or loss of purpose

Burn out in the profession is something I have struggled with off and on in my 11 years as a case manager and counselor. I started out working in group homes with teens who were runaways or in state custody, to working in residential facilities with transitioning teens from state custody programs to their homes, to working with severely mentally ill consumers in a clinic, making homes visits to clients across the county and state, to working in secondary schools providing mental health counseling and case management.

How can you assist and where does one start with burnout prevention through self care intervention?

Learn more on Counselor Chris P.'s second addition to the Counselor Self-Care Series, Your Counseling Internship and Self-Care