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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Burnout as an ethical issue in psychotherapy.

Simionato, G., Simpson, S., & Reid, C.
Psychotherapy, 56(4), 470–482.


Recent studies highlight a range of factors that place psychotherapists at risk of burnout. The aim of this study was to investigate the ethics issues linked to burnout among psychotherapists and to describe potentially effective ways of reducing vulnerability and preventing collateral damage. A purposive critical review of the literature was conducted to inform a narrative analysis. Differing burnout presentations elicit a wide range of ethics issues. High rates of burnout in the sector suggest systemic factors and the need for an ethics review of standard workplace practice. Burnout costs employers and taxpayers billions of dollars annually in heightened presenteeism and absenteeism. At a personal level, burnout has been linked to poorer physical and mental health outcomes for psychotherapists. Burnout has also been shown to interfere with clinical effectiveness and even contribute to misconduct. Hence, the ethical impact of burnout extends to our duty of care to clients and responsibilities to employers. A range of occupational and personal variables have been identified as vulnerability factors. A new 5-P model of prevention is proposed, which combines systemic and individually tailored responses as a means of offering the greatest potential for effective prevention, identification, and remediation. In addition to the significant economic impact and the impact on personal well-being, burnout in psychotherapists has the potential to directly and indirectly affect client care and standards of professional practice. Attending to the ethical risks associated with burnout is a priority for the profession, for service managers, and for each individual psychotherapist.

From the Conclusion:

Burnout is a common feature of unintentional misconduct among psychotherapists, often at the expense of client well-being, therapeutic progress, and successful client outcomes. Clinicians working in spite of burnout also incur personal and economic costs that compromise the principles of competence and beneficence outlined in ethical guidelines. This article has focused on a communitarian approach to identifying, understanding, and responding to the signs, symptoms, and risk factors in an attempt to harness ethical practice and foster successful careers in psychotherapy. The 5-P strength-based model illuminates the positive potential of workplaces that support wellbeing and prioritize ethical practice through providing an individualized responsiveness to the training, professional development, and support needs of staff. Further, in contrast to the majority of the literature that explores organizational factors leading to burnout and ethical missteps, the 5-P model also considers the personal characteristics that may contribute to burnout and the personal action that
psychotherapists can take to avoid burnout and unintentional misconduct.

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