Improve Counselor Self-Efficacy and Reduce Compassion Fatigue with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“mindfulness training may be beneficial as a prophylactic for stress and burnout for psychotherapists, counselors, and other mental health care workers.” – Tasha Felton
In occupations, like counseling, burnout is all too prevalent. Burnout is the fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, sleep disruption, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress. It not only affects the counselors personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion. Contemplative practices have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnout, increasing resilience, and improving sleep. Mindfulness is also known to improve self-compassion, understanding one’s own suffering and self-efficacy, one’s belief in their ability to make things better. It is possible that this may be a key to understanding mindfulness’ effects on burnout.
In today’s Research News article “Self-Oriented Empathy and Compassion Fatigue: The Serial Mediation of Dispositional Mindfulness and Counselor’s Self-Efficacy.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.613908/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1757290_a0P58000000G0YfEAK_Psycho_20211021_arts_A ) Zhang and colleagues recruited hotline psychological counselors online and had them complete a questionnaire measuring mindfulness, self-efficacy burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and empathy, including perspective taking, personal distress, fantasy, and empathic concern subscales.
They found that the higher the levels of empathy the higher the levels of burnout and secondary traumatic stress and the lower the levels of mindfulness and self-efficacy. The higher the levels of both mindfulness and self-efficacy the lower the levels of burnout and secondary traumatic stress while the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of self-efficacy. Linear structural modelling revealed that empathy was directly, positively, related to compassion fatigue and also indirectly related by being associated with self-efficacy which was in turn associated with lower compassion fatigue. Finally, empathy was also indirectly related to compassion fatigue by being negatively associated with mindfulness that was positively associated with self-efficacy which was in turn associated with lower compassion fatigue.
These findings are correlational. So, causation cannot be definitively established. But the associations are clear. Greater empathy is associated with greater compassion fatigue. In other words, an empathetic counselor is more likely to experience compassion fatigue which leads to burnout and secondary traumatic stress. These effects are mitigated, however, by the counselor’s empathy being associated with greater mindfulness and self-efficacy which work to lower compassion fatigue. This all leads to the suggestion that training in mindfulness may help prevent a counselor losing compassion and burning out. They may help prevent counselor burnout.
So, improve counselor self-efficacy and reduce compassion fatigue with mindfulness.
“Mindfulness trains us to think about our thoughts as ‘just thoughts,’” including the thought that tragedies and outrage are part of life or that trying to effect change is hopeless. Part of desensitization and empathy fatigue is that “we become numb and disengaged, lacking in introspection and compassion for others,” Steven Lynn
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Zhang L, Ren Z, Jiang G, Hazer-Rau D, Zhao C, Shi C, Lai L and Yan Y (2021) Self-Oriented Empathy and Compassion Fatigue: The Serial Mediation of Dispositional Mindfulness and Counselor’s Self-Efficacy. Front. Psychol. 11:613908. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.613908
This study aimed to explore the association between self-oriented empathy and compassion fatigue, and examine the potential mediating roles of dispositional mindfulness and the counselor’s self-efficacy. A total of 712 hotline psychological counselors were recruited from the Mental Health Service Platform at Central China Normal University, Ministry of Education during the outbreak of Corona Virus Disease 2019, then were asked to complete the questionnaires measuring self-oriented empathy, compassion fatigue, dispositional mindfulness, and counselor’s self-efficacy. Structural equation modeling was utilized to analyze the possible associations and explore potential mediations. In addition to reporting confidence intervals (CI), we employed a new method named model-based constrained optimization procedure to test hypotheses of indirect effects. Results showed that self-oriented empathy was positively associated with compassion fatigue. Dispositional mindfulness and counselor’s self-efficacy independently and serially mediated the associations between self-oriented empathy and compassion fatigue. The findings of this study confirmed and complemented the etiological and the multi-factor model of compassion fatigue. Moreover, the results indicate that it is useful and necessary to add some training for increasing counselor’s self-efficacy in mindfulness-based interventions in order to decrease compassion fatigue.