Almost everyone in the counseling profession experiences burnout. Even those of us outside the profession who take time to regularly have intentional conversations with others might experience burnout. We often find ourselves in these roles because the Lord has gifted us with concern for others and confident patience to see their long-term good.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is often described by its effects. You may be experiencing burnout if…
- You feel like you are dragging yourself to work; you are often late to sessions and choose to end them early.
- You choose to take shortcuts in helping counselees and find yourself repeating the same observations and interpretations over and over again.
- You feel a noticeable decline in empathy and patience; you are quick to give advice, and it becomes easy to drift off during counseling sessions.
- Your quiet times become virtually non-existent and Sunday morning church services feel obligatory.
- You begin to think you know your Bible and counseling theory exhaustively and that there is nothing more for you to learn.
- Your counselees begin to feel more burdensome to you and their problems seem trite.
Although burnout is not unusual or even shameful, it is helpful to acknowledge it in order to address and prevent it in the future.
How to Prevent Burnout
1. Understand your role.
As counselors, our responsibility is not simply to give advice or to take ownership of the counselee’s problem. Our responsibility is to point them to Christ, the one who can resolve their ultimate needs. We can take heart that these burdens are not ours to carry. We can also remember that in this work, we are not on our own. We have the privilege to partner with the True Helper, the Holy Spirit, who is Himself primarily invested in our counselee’s pursuit of holiness.
Additionally, we work in conjunction with the church. The church is the community the Lord has wisely given to encourage us along in the journey of sanctification and to preserve our faith. As counselors, we can take heart knowing that in the hard and often tedious work of counseling we are not alone when we enter the counseling room. We have partners who are far more powerful and effective than we could ever be.
2. Understand your finitude.
In order to be an effective helper to others, we should take the time to care for ourselves. In order to pour in to others, we need a full store to draw from. It is never too basic to remind ourselves that we should spend time nurturing our own relationship with the Lord. Nothing will work well if we do not find time to meditate on the Word and pray. If we are not fed spiritually, we are not able to accurately point others to the place where they can find their own spiritual food and drink.
3. Set good boundaries and teach counselees what to do in the case of an emergency.
For those with family responsibilities, it can be hard to juggle family needs as well as the needs of those under our care. For those individuals in particular, and really for all counselors, setting clear boundaries about when and where we are available is very helpful. This is a practice that helps counselees understand that they are to take ownership and responsibility for their problems instead of pawning them off to the counselor.
In the case of an emergency, counselees should always have a plan. We could help counselees to prepare an emergency plan, including emergency contact information, Scripture that will encourage and uplift, and a step-by-step guide of what to do. This should help relieve the counselee’s anxiety, knowing that they have a plan for when they feel overwhelmed or are in immediate danger. They feel empowered and you feel at ease knowing there is a plan in place.
4. Continue learning.
As counselors, we need to be sure to spend time not only in the Word and in church, but in continued learning. We do this by spending time with others in the profession, learning from their perspective, and learning from counseling books and articles.
5. Pray for yourself and others.
The helping profession is a small shadow of what the Holy Spirit does in the life of the Christian. Since we have the privilege of partnering with others for the benefit of their souls, we should pray often. We should pray for ourselves, for our counselees, and for the Lord to complete the work that He has begun in them.
Question for Reflection
If you currently feel burnt out, how could the Lord’s provision and steadfastness sustain you through your circumstances?
Victoria received a Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing further counseling education at Johns Hopkins University. Through counseling, she desires to walk alongside and encourage others towards the unending hope that is offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.