Mental health and well-being of psychotherapists: intercultural studies
Mental health and the well-being of psychotherapists remain largely unexplored. Clinical psychology and psychotherapy have traditionally focused not on psychotherapists but their clients. However, the work of a psychotherapist may be associated with multidimensional mental distress, which may not only adversely affect their quality of life but also be a factor that hinders the performance of this profession. In short: it can potentially harm clients. Our literature review discusses this issue.
Van Hoy, A., & Rzeszutek, M. (2022). Burnout and psychological well-being among psychotherapists: A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 13: 928191.
So far, we have conducted scientific research among Polish psychotherapists who suffer from burnout and so-called burnout, i.e., secondary traumatization. Secondary trauma is when a psychotherapist working with people after trauma “becomes infected” with their post-traumatic symptoms through too intense, empathetic involvement. If you are interested in the results of these studies thus far, please read our publications:
Rzeszutek M., Partyka M., Gołąb A. (2015). Temperament traits, social support and secondary traumatic stress disorder symptoms in a sample of trauma therapists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46, 213–220.
Rzeszutek M., Schier K. (2014). Temperament traits, social support, and burnout symptoms in a sample of therapists.. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 51, 574–579.
We have recently completed an international research project on occupational burnout and psychotherapist well-being in 12 European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, Spain, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) in collaboration with the TREATme scientific consortium as part of the EU COST Action initiative (Horizon 2020; https://www.treat-me.eu/) and the New Ideas grant at POB V at the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Warsaw. This study aimed to search for the psychological, social, and cultural determinants of burnout and well-being among psychotherapists from these countries, particularly the stress accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first article we published looked at the significance of cross-cultural differences – analyzed in the refined theory of Schwartz’s core values (see transcending oneself, empowering oneself, openness to change, and conservatism) – in the level of burnout among psychotherapists during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are significant differences in occupational burnout levels between countries (highest in Cyprus, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom, and lowest in Romania, Serbia, and Finland), only 9% of the variance is attributed to intercultural differences (the rest is related to individual differences). The role of values at the country level was significant in the only observed inter-level interaction regarding openness to change. In other words: if psychotherapists in a given country declared a high level of this value and noticed that other psychotherapists in their country displayed a low level of it, then they were at a higher risk of burnout (it also worked the other way around, i.e., when someone declared a low level of this value and noticed that in a given country other psychotherapists reported its high intensity, this also suggested a higher risk of occupational burnout). The most essential “transcultural” determinants of occupational burnout among psychotherapists from all countries were sociodemographic variables (male gender, younger age, and being single) and higher levels of stress related to COVID-19 – mainly fatigue with online psychotherapeutic work.
Van Hoy, A., Rzeszutek, M., Pięta, M., Mestre, J., Rodríguez, A., Midgley, N., Omylinska-Thurston, J., Dopierała, A., Falkenström, F., Ferlin, J., Gergov, V., Lazić, M., Ulberg, R., Røssberg, J., Hancheva, C., Stoyanova, S., Schmidt, S., Podinan, I., Ferreira, N., Kagialis, A., Löffler-Stastka, H., & Gruszczyńska, E. (2022). Burnout among psychotherapists: A cross-cultural value survey among 12 european countries during the coronavirus disease pandemic. Scientific Reports, 12, 13527.
In the second article we published, we investigated the role of social (social support) and individual variables concerning psychotherapists’ psychological well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic in the earlier mentioned 12 European countries. The study results showed that the highest satisfaction with life was recorded among psychotherapists from Switzerland and the lowest from Romania. On the other hand, the highest level of emotional well-being was declared by psychotherapists from Serbia and the lowest – from Norway. An in-depth statistical analysis also showed that psychotherapists’ satisfaction with life was closely related to the country they came from (for example, differences in the level of socio-economic development of a given country). In contrast, the emotional well-being of psychotherapists depended mainly on individual variables, including social support and a sense of effectiveness.
Van Hoy, A., Rzeszutek, M., Pięta, M., Mestre, J., Rodríguez, A., Midgley, N., Omylinska-Thurston, J., Dopierała, A., Falkenström, F., Ferlin, J., Gergov, V., Lazić, M., Ulberg, R., Røssberg, J., Hancheva, C., Stoyanova, S., Schmidt, S., Podinan, I., Ferreira, N., Kagialis, A., Löffler-Stastka, H., & Gruszczyńska, E. (2022). Subjective well-being among psychotherapists during the coronavirus disease pandemic: A cross-cultural survey from 12 european countries. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 154, 315-323.
The results of our analysis highlight the need for further research on mental health among psychotherapists and may be a valuable source in the discussion concerning the standards of training psychotherapists in an international context.
Finally, the results of our longitudinal study (see three measurements of variables, observation for over a year) conducted among Polish psychotherapists showed the role of social support and self-efficacy in protecting against burnout and promoting psychological well-being in this professional group.
Van Hoy, A., & Rzeszutek, M. (2023). Trajectories of burnout and psychological well-being among psychotherapists during the Covid-19 pandemic: Results of a 1-year prospective study. Stress and Health, 1– 17.