Dr. Nola Veazie, V-Solutions Consulting, LLC

Dr. Nola Veazie, V-Solutions Consulting, LLC
V-Solutions Consulting, LLC

Counselors in the addiction field often work under difficult conditions, which increase stress levels and yield higher rates of burnout. Funding cuts increased the client-to-counselor ratio in some programs, resulting in an unmanageable workload. Moreover, the drumbeat to professionalize addiction counselors (required to provide quality interventions) resulted in a change in certification/licensure standards; thereby, generating a shortage of addiction counselors (Vilardaga et. Al, 2011).  Substance Use Disorder (SUD) programs have experienced an influx of clients with co-occurring disorders and special medical needs; thus, creating a vacuum that must be filled by certified/licensed professionals with specialized training.  The cumulative effect of these changes produces work-related stress, resulting in employee burnout.

Burnout is a pervasive form of stress often linked to a lack of support, a hectic workload, the perception of little or no job control, or a hostile work environment, among other variables.  Mental health and addiction counselors are not immune to burnout.  A study by Shoptaw, Stein, and Rawson (2000) hypothesized that burnout among 134 addiction counselors surveyed was related to a lack of support from their supervisor, having a heavy caseload, and dealing with difficult clients with severe medical problems.  Moreover, the study found that emotional exhaustion was considerably correlated to less support from supervisors, a sense of less efficacy, and a less-than-ideal work environment.

This state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion can, and often does, lead to cynicism, reduced empathy, decreased ability to connect with clients, and inability to cope with daily tasks. A counselor’s capacity to connect with their clients is at the core of engendering trust in the therapeutic relationship. The disconnection between counselors and clients, caused by burnout, can be perceived as disinterest or self-interest rather than a client-focused relationship. When clients believe that the counselor is motivated by self-interest, rather than true empathy, it causes a breakdown in communication and the client-counselor alliance. Additionally, the study conducted by Shoptaw, Stein, and Rason (2000) provided insight into a possible correlation between burnout and counselors’ struggle to maintain professional boundaries.  The breach of professional boundaries can result in a clear violation of our code of ethics.

What can be done to address burnout?

Burnout has a significant physical and psychological effect on counselors that sometimes goes unnoticed.  Day-to-day client responsibilities often exceed the counselor’s responsibility to care for him or herself.  Counselors may ignore initial warning signs such as headaches, shoulder pain, or psychosomatic complaints that may be related to job stress.  Supervisors might give the counselor time off for self-care but neglect to change current processes or policies that contribute to work-related stress. Supervisors sometimes ignore warning signs until the counselor’s behavior affects client care or negatively impacts the organization.  Here are a few consequences of burnout we should be aware of:

  1. Emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion
  2. Reduced empathy
  3. Inability to connect with clients.
  4. Reduced ability to cope with daily tasks.
  5. Boundary violations

What can we do?

Dealing with burnout requires self-care; this means that counselors must prioritize behaviors and actions that promote wellness.  Additionally, supervisors, managers, and leaders, in general, can provide support by promoting an organizational culture that encourages addiction counselors and milieu staff to look out for each other.  Most importantly, supervisors should set behavioral standards they wish to see team members emulate.  When supervisors and leaders neglect their physical and psychological well-being but advise subordinates/team members to take care of themselves, it seldom promotes behavioral changes because of incongruence.

Supervisors can help by encouraging counselors to take regular breaks between clients.  Taking a deep breath or simply stretching promotes psychological respite for overworked counselors; however, it is ultimately the counselor’s responsibility to care for him/herself.  Counselors often neglect to take breaks because they are concerned with the documentation backlog or lack of time to see their clients. Taking a break can also provide time to discuss any difficulties you are experiencing with a client when regular clinical supervision is not provided.

Although self-care involves practicing techniques such as mindfulness, stress management, or seeking professional help, it may look different for each person.  However, adopting a holistic approach to address physical, psychological, and spiritual symptoms is key in dealing with, or mitigating burnout. For example, regular supervision can help reduce stress by sharing your concerns with a seasoned member of the team, who can provide insight on how to interact with a client who is experiencing difficulties.  Supervisors can also help you by discussing how to set appropriate boundaries, address work-life balance, and guide you in your search for professional development training to stay up to date on best practices.

Dr. Jessica Rodriguez

Dr. Rodriguez was named the Executive Director of Gateway Corp in 2012.  Gateway Corp was developed as a non-profit, public charity and founded October 27, 2011. November 2014, she developed a clinical hub for Gateway Corp called OnSite Strategies. OnSite is also a United States Trademark.

She has held the position of CEO, Clinical Director, Lead Educator and Clinical Trainer as well as the Clinical Business Developer. She has fulfilled the roles of a clinical consultant, professional development consultant and has clinically supervised many SUD/addiction counselors, mental health professionals and addiction and family interventionists for over 12 years.

She has been active in the mental health field since 1995. She has also clinically trained throughout the US and provides clinical oversight for several organizations in California.

Dr. Rodriguez released her first book, “When the Rainbow Ends a Shadow from Heaven Appears” in 2017.” Her newest book, “The Cart, From Adversity to Collateral Beauty” is scheduled to be released in the Fall of 2022.

Dr. Rodriguez is currently a writer for Rapporteur Magazine. Her focus is about Mental Wellness also covered topics to include ACE’s, trauma, anxiety, and Systemic Racism.

Adriana Popescu, Ph.D.

Dr. Adriana Popescu is a licensed clinical psychologist and empowerment coach with over 25 years of experience in the mental health field. She specializes in treating addictions and trauma, and has directed a number of treatment programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the Founder and CEO of Firebird Healing, a trauma healing program, and the Clinical Director at Avery Lane, an innovative and holistic treatment program for women with co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders and trauma.

Adriana has contributed to a number of books, including TJ Woodward’s Conscious Being Workbook, the Conscious Recovery for Addiction and Conscious Recovery for Mental Health Workbooks, and the Conscious Creation Workbook, all of which she co-authored with him.

She has a private practice in San Francisco and travels around the world speaking, coaching, and facilitating transformational and empowering workshops. She also hosts a fascinating podcast called Kaleidoscope of Possibilities – Alternative Perspectives on Mental Health.

Adriana loves to bring the most innovative and effective tools to her work, empowering people to overcome their imagined limitations, release their self-judgments, and discover the brilliance within – creating a life of infinite possibilities.

Her first book, “What If You’re Not as F*cked Up As You Think”, was released in October.

Aven Armstrong-Sutton, Ph.D(c), RSW

Clinical Services Manager at Kinark Child and Family Services

Aven L. Armstrong-Sutton has been a practicing licensed social worker for over a decade. With diverse experience in settings such as health promotion, foster care, youth homelessness, outpatient mental health & addictions, and student support services, Aven currently serves as a Clinical Services Manager at Kinark Child and Family Services, managing a Live-In-Treatment Program and three outpatient treatment programs. Maintaining a part-time private practice, Aven’s multidisciplinary and integrative approach focuses on trauma and resilience among under-served communities.

June Price Tangney, Ph.D

Dr. Tangney received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UCLA. She is currently University Professor and Professor of Psychology at George Mason. She is a Recipient of International Society for Self and Identity’s Distinguished Lifetime Career Award and Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science and of APA’s Division of Personality and Social Psychology.

Dr. Tangney is coauthor (with Ronda Dearing) of Shame and Guilt, coeditor (with Ronda Dearing) of Shame in the Therapy Hour, coeditor (with Jess Tracy and Richard Robins) of The self-conscious emotions: Theory and research, and coeditor (with Mark Leary) of the Handbook of Self and Identity. She has served as Associate Editor for Self and Identity, Consulting Editor for Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Psychological Assessment, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, and Journal of Personality, and is currently Associate Editor of American Psychologist.

Her research on the development and implications of moral emotions has been funded by NIDA, NICHD, NSF, and the John Templeton Foundation. Currently, her work focuses on moral emotions among incarcerated offenders. She draws on theory and research in psychology and criminology to develop novel interventions that leverage inmates’ moral emotions and prosocial values. A recipient of GMU’s Teaching Excellence Award, Dr. Tangney strives to integrate service, teaching and clinically-relevant research in both the classroom and her lab.

Christina Veselak, MS, LMFT, CN

Founder and Director of the Academy for Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition

Christina T. Veselak, MS, LMFT, CN, is the founder and director of the Academy for Addiction and Mental Health Nutrition, which teaches practitioners around the world how to use diet, along with amino acid and nutrient therapy, to help prevent cravings and recurrent drug use. She has been a licensed psychotherapist working in the SUD treatment field since 1985 and a certified nutritionist specializing in mental health and addiction recovery since 1993.

Sean Bezdek, LMFT, MBA

Sean is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 25 years of experience working in mental health and substance abuse settings, in inpatient, PHP, and private practice. He holds b a master’s degree in Marital and Family Therapy from Philips Institute and an MBA from Baker College.

Sean’s clinical practice has specialized in working with Personality Disorders, Couples, Adolescents, and individual suffering from chronic mental illness. As a clinician Sean enjoys working with clients who can be resistant to traditional treatment and believes in the philosophy of “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. BUT you can feed them saltines to make them thirsty!”

Sean is the Program Director for Akua Mind Body’s Sacramento inpatient mental health program. His prior leadership experience includes oversight of acute inpatient, utilization management, hospice/palliative care, home health and skilled nursing. Sean’s approach to management is to ensure the work that needs to get done gets done. “Our job is patient care. This include everything from making coffee to running groups. There is not one person who is more important that the other when it comes to providing exceptional care to the clients we serve.”