Research Proposal: Burnout and Technical College Counselors

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Burnout and Technical College Counselors

This research proposal outlines the background, theoretical and research foundations, as well as the methodological framework, of a study that will investigate the prevalence of burnout in counselors within the sixteen (16) colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). The construct of burnout for the purposes of this study is defined as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or cynicism and inefficacy of a counselor. While all professions have some level of stress involved, the research quickly emphasizes that school counselors in general and those at 2-year institutions tend to experience inordinately high levels of work-related stress that may contribute to a higher incidence of burnout. This research suggests that there is a distinct difference between counselor burnout as a function of whether or not they deliver services at a 4-year or a 2-year post secondary institution. Further, this research posits that this difference may be directly related to the diversity of the student body at 2-year post- secondary institutions as well as the type of services counselors provide as a result of the vast diversity of the students they serve as well as the broad range of needs these students typically present.

The diversity in this sense is less cultural and more situational as students at 2-year institutions tend to be non-traditional students (e.g., first-generation college students, working full time and/or be single parents, etc.). Counselors in 2-year post secondary institutions tend to provide "traditional" academic support and interpersonal counseling. In addition, school counselors at 2-year institutions frequently have to work with students who are more directly impacted by a wide range of life stressors, such as child-rearing responsibilities, work-related requirements or conversely, loss of income, poor study habits, just to name a few.

While admittedly there has been very little research specific to the relationship between burnout and counselors employed in technical colleges, a study to investigate the burnout among technical colleges' counselors seemed appropriate to understand and to address remedies to counter burnout in counselors employed in technical colleges.

CHAPTER I

Introduction

In 1975, Herbert Freudenberger first used the term "burnout" (Skovolt, 2001) as a characterization of his substance-abusing clients. Based on his extensive professional experience with the phenomenon, Freudenberger defined burnout as being a syndrome that included the symptoms of exhaustion, a discernible pattern of neglecting an individual's own needs, being committed and dedicated to a cause, working too long and too intensely, feeling pressures coming from within oneself, being pressured from harried staff administrators, and from giving too much to needy clients (1974, p. 161). In addition, Freudenberger also determined that individuals working in the helping professions tend to "pay a 'high cost' for 'high achievement' in either their personal or professional lives" (1983, p. 25). In sum, Freudenberger's definition of burnout was "Someone in a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward"; in other words, "Whenever the expectation level is dramatically opposed to reality and the person persists in trying to reach that expectation, trouble is on the way" (Freudenberger, 1980, p. 13).

Since that time, more than 30 years' worth of research has been accumulated on the phenomenon of burnout in a wide range of professions (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). In this regard, Hall, Gardner, Perl, Stickney and Pfefferbaum (as cited in Watkins, 1983) described burnout as wearing out, failing, and becoming exhausted. Ryan (1976) described it as physical and emotional exhaustion, loss of self-confidence, and an inability to continue the caring and the commitment that was initially brought to the job. Perlman and Hartman (1980) described burnout as feelings of exhaustion, the development of chronic negative attitudes about oneself and/or clientele, and lowered job performance. Forney, Wallace-Shutzman, and Wiggers (as cited in Watkins, 1983) described it as a two-dimensional phenomenon, consisting of a significant loss of motivation, enthusiasm and energy, as well as a marked departure from the individual's behavioral norm. Murray (1987) expressed burnout as a generalized reaction to some form of frustration. Pines and Aronson (as cited in Emerson & Markos, 1996) explained it as physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion brought on by involvement over prolonged periods with emotionally demanding situations and weakness. Maslach (2003) summarized the past work on burnout by writing, "What has emerged from all this research is a conceptualization of job burnout as a psychological syndrome in response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job" (p.189).

It is important to emphasize, though, that while burnout can be caused by stress and stress is typically a symptom of burnout, the two conditions are not synonymous. For example, Wilkerson and Bellini note that, "The psychological literature on occupational stress usually defines stress as an individually based, affect-ladened experience caused by subjectively perceived stressors" (p. 441). While Maslach (1993) acknowledged that there were similarities between the constructs of job stress and burnout, she maintained that the three-component model of burnout is what differentiates burnout from the construct of stress identified in the research to date (Wilkerson & Bellini). According to these authors, "With its emphasis on emotional exhaustion, personal accomplishment, and the symptoms of depersonalization, she contended that the burnout construct contributes something unique to existing bodies of literature" (Wilkerson & Bellini, p. 441).

Over the past 30 years, the construct burnout has acquired various definitions; however, the multitude of definitions consistently describes some or all aspects of the same three components: exhaustion, depersonalization, and inefficacy (Maslach and Leiter, 1997, 2003). According to the three-component model, Baum, Revenson and Singer (2001) report that, "Burnout is an individual stress experience embedded in a context of complex social relationships, and it involves the person's conception of both self and others" (p. 416). The emotional exhaustion component of burnout refers to feelings of tiredness and fatigue (Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma, & Bakker, 2002). The depletion or draining of emotional and physical energies is caused when individuals overextend themselves and become overwhelmed by the demands of others (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001).

Depersonalization or cynicism, described as the second component of burnout, is an attempt to put distance between oneself and the client (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Cynicism refers to a negative, callous, or excessively detached response to various aspects of the job (Angerer, 2003). Inefficacy is the feeling that one is inadequate (Angerer 2003). Maslach, Schaufeli, and Leiter (2001) and Angerer (2003) sum up the dimension of inefficacy by referring to the feelings of productivity and non-productivity at work, stating that individuals began to see themselves unworthy of the profession and began to view their role as unimportant.

The growing body of research concerning burnout indicates that individuals who pursue helping professions such as nursing, teaching, and counseling are more likely to experience burnout because of personal characteristics, such as a willingness and commitment to the provision of care and comfort for others (Schaufeli, Salavona, Gonzalez-Roma & Bakker, 2002; Skovholt, 2001; Swanton, Stude, Unruh & Swanton, 2001). Most of the burnout research on the counseling profession has investigated psychologists, rehabilitation counselors and social workers. For instance, there have been a few studies that have demonstrated a correlation of burnout among school counselors in 4-year institutions with various demographic variables, individual personality attributes, and organizational issues, but by and large the there remains a paucity of research concerning burnout and school counselors in general (Wilkerson & Bellini) and among technical college or community college counselors in particular. Therefore, this study seeks to expand on this body of knowledge by examining burnout as it produces emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or cynicism and inefficacy among counselors working in technical colleges.

Existing research suggests that there may be a significant degree of burnout among the identified population. Further, the research delineates that this prevalence of burnout may be directly related to the diversity of the student body (e.g., older adult, first generation, working full time and/or single parents, etc.) at two-year post secondary institutions as well as the type of services counselors provide to the students they serve. Counselors in 2-year post secondary institutions tend to provide "traditional" academic support and interpersonal counseling. In addition, they frequently have to work with students who are more directly impacted by life stressors which are encapsulated in their effort to balance everyday life, work, and school. To date, there has been very little research specific to the relationship between burnout and counselors employed in technical colleges; therefore, a study to investigate the burnout among technical college counselors seemed appropriate, relevant and timely in order to understand and to address instances of burnout in counselors employed in technical colleges.

Although most, if not all, postsecondary educational institutions provide some type of counseling services to students, the counseling services provided, and the role the counselor performs depends largely upon the nature and the size of the institution (Dean, 2000). According to Craig and Norton, (2000), counselors' duties at 4-year colleges are usually specialized in one or two areas such as career counseling, personal counseling, and academic advising. In comparison, counselors' duties… [END OF PREVIEW]

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