Tag Archives: burnout

Helping Counsellors Working in Trauma

Posted by: Michael Sorsdahl on April 5, 2016 12:46 pm

As a working psychotherapist in the area of trauma, it has become very evident that the importance of the development of self-care strategies and receiving supervision to aid in helping ourselves to help our clients is paramount.  It has struck me that many practitioners enter into the field without understanding the pitfalls and signs of Vicarious Trauma, Compassion Fatigue, and Burnout. If we as practitioners of wellness are unable to maintain our own wellness, then we can actually do more harm than good in our attempts to help..

My experience as both a practitioner and an instructor to counselling psychology students in the area of crisis and trauma has led me to realize the lack of awareness that may exist in our professional community. Some of the symptoms of vicarious trauma as outlined by Iqbal (2015) that may be experienced by thBurnouterapists could be:

  • Changes in personal identity and world view
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Becoming easily emotionally overwhelmed
  • Numbing of atypical feelings towards people and events
  • Loss of connectedness to others and the self
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty connecting with joy.

Some ways for practitioners in the field to be able to assess for their levels of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout are with the Traumatic Stress Institute Belief Scale (TSI-BSL), Compassion Fatigue Self-Test for Psychotherapists (CFST), the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQoL), and the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Sansbury, Graves, & Scott, 2015).

Proactive self-interventions against the onset of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout are through the implementation of self-care strategies and supervision. Self-care strategies can be implemented in 4 realms of practitioner’s lives, including the physical, mental/emotional, social, and physical environment. Examples could be exercise and nutrition (Physical), meditation and mindfulness (mental/emotional), time spent with family and friends (family), and a clean orderly house (physical environment). I recommend implementing 1-2 strategies from each of these four areas to give a well-rounded self-care approach.

Directly discussing vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout with a supervisor is one of the best ways to work through the symptoms early on and process any concerns you may have. Supervision is not just for students, I highly recommend it for all active practitioners in our field.


Iqbal, A. (2015). The ethical considerations of counselling psychologists working with trauma: Is there a risk of vicarious traumatisation? Counselling Psychology Review, 30 (1), 44-51.

Merriman, J. (2015). Enhancing counsellor supervision through compassion fatigue education. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93, 370-378.

Sansbury, B. S., Graves, K., & Scott, W. (2015). Managing traumatic stress responses among clinicians: Individual and organizational tools for self-care. Trauma, 17, (2), 114-122.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Important Lessons From Vacation Time

Posted by: Andrea Cashman on May 4, 2015 2:38 pm

It has been almost four years since I took a real vacation (and not a stay-cation). The stress had taken its toll from working as a psychotherapist and a nurse over the last few years so when I finally decided to take a vacation this year to de-stress and unwind, I truly felt the positive gains from it and saw its benefits. I had decided I needed a beach vacation to be able to de-stress and self-reflect. It’s always important as therapists to schedule in these much needed breaks to reconnect with ourselves as human beings and recharge for ourselves and for the benefits of our clients. Yes, it’s hard to leave knowing some clients might feel abandoned or have difficulty coping without having their therapy sessions readily available during the week(s) you are away; however, not taking a vacation for yourself does harm to all parties. It not only can cause you burnout which will affect your clients but it also sends the message to your clients that they have to depend on you and that you are not a model of self-care yourself. Being well attuned to your own needs sets a good example. If you have a full case load and have complex clients that you feel may need some potential support while you are away, you can always designate a back up therapist to look after your clients as need be. This is at your discretion. Don’t hesitate to let your clients 22429_10153210437672440_816457692952054472_nknow you are away by preparing them in session and by changing your voicemail message and email vacation reminder.

So, here I was in Cuba last week, enjoying the beach and the sun. I was able to relax, meditate and reflect on myself as a person and a therapist. I recharged myself. I was away from all social media and email/phone correspondence and it was liberating. I was able to take in the culture and be humbled by my surroundings and took on a new appreciation for my life and felt true gratitude. I noticed how happy Cuban people are and how they use music, dance and song to express their happiness. I noticed how much they smiled and laughed and revelled in simple things. I wondered how disconnected we were compared to them and how much we take for granted. My take-aways were humbling and grounding for me. Even just taking care of my basic needs of sleep, food, water and sunshine/fresh air did a world of good. How many times do we have sleepless nights or don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun? – and how these factors lack in our daily lives and effect our work ethic. I even have heard of therapists who don’t schedule in a proper lunch break in between clients. How can you truly be effective and available when your concentration is off with your stomach rumbling? Not only did I think of these things, but I also had time to reflect on where I would like to be in a year’s time from now and where I hope my private practice will be as well. I hope you take the time to have a self-reflecting and recharging vacation time this year because you will not regret it.

Andrea Cashman is a private practice psychotherapist who has founded Holistic Counselling Services for individual clients seeking therapy in Ottawa, ON. She also practices at the Ottawa Hospital as a registered nurse. Feel free to comment below or contact her at [email protected] or visit her website at www.holisticcounsellingservices.ca

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Be a Lifeguard, Not a Lifesaver: The Benefits of Avoiding Rescuing Behaviours

Posted by: Anna Coutts on February 24, 2015 3:31 pm

It’s hard to not be a rescuer. Very few parents, therapists or generally empathetic people I know can stand idly by and watch someone they love drowning in emotional pain, getting choked by waves of sadness, anxiety or shame. It’s not to say that rescuing is a bad thing- saving someone from a painful struggle is absolutely necessary sometimes.

Unfortunately, however, it’s easy to get trapped in a rescuer role that eventually puts both of you at risk. I see parents getting caught in this trap all the time in my work with youth dealing with complex mental health issues. Parents witness their child’s emotional turmoil and bend over backwards to find a way to dive in and save them from suffering. Who can blame them? No one wants to see their child in pain and every parent wants to protect their child.

Balancing Stones - 36428104The problem with rescuing is that while it provides immediate relief, it doesn’t yield long-term results. It dis-empowers the person being rescued and they never learn how to swim. Instead, you get caught in an infinite loop, as they become reliant on you to rescue them over and over again. Even the healthiest lifesaver, the strongest swimmer, can only pull someone safely to shore so many times before they too become exhausted and are unable to keep their head above water. Not only can this lead the person rescuing to struggle to stay afloat themselves, it can breed resentment. How many times can you rescue someone before you get frustrated with them for always jumping in? It can also stir up negative feelings for the person being rescued. They may begin to see themselves as a helpless victim and feel ashamed or angry that they always need someone to help them get to shore.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Procrastination, Burnout and Support

Posted by: Bhavna Verma on January 15, 2015 10:11 am

It’s so easy to put aside the ‘to do’ list when you’re not in the right state of mind. For example, these blogs need to be submitted bi-weekly; and I, admittedly have not been submitting the blogs on time. I’m sure there are others out there like me which makes me feel validated and normal. But the blogs are not intensive; they are literally between 350-500 words which don’t take too long to produce. So, why has it taken me so long to complete and submit them? Because, my mind, heart and soul just weren’t in it. Recently, there have been a multitude of stressors in my life that have forced me to push aside projects to the back burner. And eventually, insight hit! Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was no longer in the mood to work on the blogs or other projects. I knew that the submission date was coming up, but had no inkling to work on it. We all know that lack of excitement or the pleasure feeling from activities we enjoy is a symptom of burnout. But it is up to us to become aware of the feeling and decide how long this feeling will continue for. At some point, I had to force myself to get my act together, and jump back on the wagon. I’ve committed myself to projects, and I need to follow through with them. Once I labeled my emotion towards the pending projects, it became easier to tackle them. Another variable which I feel is important is that once you have labeled the stage of burnout, you need to inform others too, such as your boss or co-workers; or even Stephanie Ross, who diligently uploads the blogs. Support from family and friends are a must in order to come out of burnout, as it is so easy to get lost in the process. This may just make you feel even worse and perpetuate the symptoms. Express to your family and friends what support you feel you need from them, as it could be different for each person. By specifying what you need, you alleviate doubt and wonder that they may be having as they may not be sure how to help you, and unintentionally end up doing more damage than good. To me, this is also a sign of insight and awareness, as you are able to recognize what helps and what doesn’t.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Beyond Compassion Fatigue: The Phoenix in Flight

Posted by: Siri Brown on August 15, 2012 12:15 pm

When first embarking on the adventure and honour of helping others as a professional, credentialed, certified therapist, it is all you can do to contain your excitement as you await each new client.  Brimming over with theories, interventions and techniques, the beginner counsellor knows, in their bones, that they can make a difference. It is a wonderful, fulfilling knowing and despite the occasional bouts of doubt and moments of uncertainty, it is an amazing time in a counsellor’s career, and I reveled in it as I embarked on my dream profession.

So what happened to me? To many of us? You know, to our dreams of helping hundreds of hurting clients and becoming self-actualized in the process? Instead, many of us have found ourselves 10, 15, 20 years down the road burned out, weary, depressed and doubting. Even wondering, in our darker moments, whether counselling really helps anyone in the long run anyway. Not a fun place to be. And not a place one has to stay, either.  As one of my favourite colleagues likes to point out, “suffering is optional”.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

The ONLY Way of Getting off the Compassion Fatigue Rollercoaster for Good!

Posted by: Siri Brown on April 10, 2012 3:59 pm

The first time I suffered from counsellor burnout, aka Compassion Fatigue, was at my first job at a residential treatment centre.  I was young, fresh, idealistic and ready to dive into the rewarding work of helping others.  After only about a year and a half, I was drinking regularly, smoking again after a hiatus of over a year and a half, and exercising compulsively (at least an hour and a half a day).  I was crying on my way home from work, and frustrated and ashamed of myself and my apparent lack of healthier “coping skills”.

I didn’t know what was going on – how come I was struggling so much?  Why was I feeling the need to escape from my feelings so compulsively?  Why was I so emotionally sensitive?  What had happened to the old me?  Despite my efforts at distracting myself, the cracks started to show – I have two distinct memories that helped me realize something was really wrong. 

The  first one was during a massage, when the massage therapist placed her hands on my shoulders and asked, “why are you carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders? “.  This prompted a waterfall of tears.  How did she know that was exactly how I was feeling?

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA


Posted by: Victoria Lorient-Faibish on May 3, 2011 9:48 am

Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired? (Or all of the above?) If yes, know that it is time to halt; I mean stop everything as these are the beginning stages of burnout.

Watching out for the signs of burn out is so important to make sure that our job is one that is still enjoyable and helpful to our beloved clients.

Some signs you are starting to burn out and in need of HALTing everything are:

  • You begin to experience your empathy levels going down.  Or in your mind you hear yourself saying “Could you get the point!” when working with your client.
  • You start sharing your own personal story in a way that is not helpful to your client. Boundaries are starting to fade as you are not cognizant that this is going on.
  • Being late often because you are going overtime with the clients.
  • You are exhausted at the end of your day in a way that does not seem to be solved by a good night’s sleep.
  • You are losing passion and you are bored frequently.
  • You have not done any personal work in a while and you are losing touch with self.
  • You bring home your clients problems in your mind.
  • You feel resentful of your clients.
  • You are happy when they cancel.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Practically Yours: Self-Care Tips for Counsellors

Posted by: Derrick Shirley on April 12, 2011 9:07 am

My favourite activity at my childhood camp was “FREE TIME!” I even remember it being written in capitol letters on the weekly schedule. If it was sunny, we went to the swimming hole. If it was raining, we created a mudslide. Nothing could keep us from going outside to play. As adults, we spend time with friends, play games with the kids, or take a vacation and get lost in a sunset. We have been doing “self-care” our whole lives.

As we age, responsibilities grow and “self-care” becomes more important. Full and part-time jobs, demanding schedules, parenting, caring for aging parents, spending more time with family and friends, justifiably or not, all means less time for ourselves.  Add to this the increasing roles and responsibilities of counselling, and effective self-care becomes not only a professional, but ethical imperative.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA