Well-Being Mental Health

High rates of burnout among college mental health counselors is compromising quality of care, survey says

(Carol Yepes/Getty Images)

Story at a glance

  • Just under 93 percent of clinicians on college campuses reported feeling burned out and stressed during the fall semester.
  • Sixty-five percent of clinicians reported a heavier workload and longer hours worked compared to the fall semester in 2020.
  • Another 60 percent said their workload had compromised the quality of care they were able to provide to students.

College counselors and clinicians are reporting increasingly high levels of burnout and stress as the pandemic enters its third year. Experts say it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Just under 93 percent of clinicians on college campuses reported feeling burned out and stressed during the fall semester this year, according to a survey by Mantra Health, a digital mental health clinic geared at young adults. More than 65 percent of respondents reported a heavier workload and longer hours worked compared to the fall semester in 2020. 

Another 60 percent said their workload had compromised the quality of care they were able to provide to students in the fall.

Caseloads aren’t expected to fall anytime soon, as overworked clinicians are leaving the field at a rate similar to that of students asking for help, according to David Walden, the director of Hamilton College’s counseling center. Qualified candidates are also hard to come by.


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“Over the last year college counseling centers have seen an uptick in professionals leaving the field and a smaller pool of applicants to refill their positions while the demand from students seeking treatment continues to rise,” he said Thursday in a statement.

Walden noted that, importantly, clinicians are also contending with their own pandemic anxieties that impact their ability to care for themselves, let alone others.

It is “increasingly difficult for directors and clinicians to avoid burnout while institutions of higher education are having increasing trouble hiring and retaining quality mental health staff,” he said.

With college-aged students reporting alarming rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse, providing quality on- and off-campus care is critical.

Nearly 66 percent of respondents said they would benefit from a “reduced workload through expanded clinical team or outside support.” That’s up significantly from 2020, when only 40 percent of clinicians felt they needed more staff.

Burnout among clinicians and counseling staff can be reduced by creating better boundaries between work and home and fostering open communication, the report suggested. Staff should also feel appreciated and supported for their hard work, Harry Rockland-Miller, director emeritus for the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said Thursday.

“For clinicians to succeed, it’s critical they are recognized, appreciated, supported and feel that they are working as part of a larger community in support of a critical mission,” he said.


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