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Counselor self-care: Burnout can be treated and prevented

March 5, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Addiction counselors face a number of pressures, both within and outside the therapeutic relationship, that can contribute to stress and burnout. A clinician and clinical supervisor who has taught several courses on clinician self-care believes that normalizing these feelings that many counselors experience can go a long way toward lessening the potential destructiveness of their impact. “Counselors need to realize that if they experience signs of burnout, it’s not their fault. It’s not because they’re weak,” says Patricia A. Burke, MSW, LCSW, who in April will teach a Brown University distance learning course on self-care sponsored by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center of New England. “It’s a normal, natural response of being compassionate.” Burke, who is based in Maine and is the former clinical director of the Smith House Addictions Treatment Program, says she now spends a good portion of her course time addressing the “secondary trauma” issues that can be experienced by clinicians serving addicts who have a trauma history. She says that as the field has learned more about the link between addiction and trauma for so many individuals, it has realized that special attention must be paid to how the attempt to meet the complex needs of these clients can take a heavy toll on the professional. “These clients show up with more crises,” Burke says. “When counselors are listening to people’s stories of trauma, they can become traumatized themselves.” Burke offers in her classes specific self-care plans for clinicians. When stress-reducing activities are employed properly, she says, they can both address signs of burnout that have already emerged and also prevent burnout to some degree, she believes. For more information on the four-week online course “Clinician Self-Care for Addiction Counselors and Clinical Supervisors,” approved for eight educational credits by NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, visitwww.browndlp.org.

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