The Importance of Work-Life Balance in the Fields of Psychology and Counseling

The Importance of Work-Life Balance in the Fields of Psychology and Counseling

Derek Giannone, B.A.
Section 10 Secretary

Featured in Indonesian Counseling Association (ICA)’s October 2016 Newsletter

For the working individual, the balance struck between their work activities and any other leisure or social activities can be an important component of the well-being of those individuals, their relationships, and the organizations to which they belong (Kalliath & Brough, 2008).  While definitions have varied, researchers suggest work-life balance may be best described as “the perception that work and non-work activities are compatible and promote growth in accordance with an individual’s current life priorities” (p. 326).  Decreases in this perceived balance between work and non-work activities have been associated with negative outcomes such as higher rates of burnout, physical health issues, and decreased psychological well-being, and lower productivity (Rao & Indla, 2010).

Work-life balance also appears to be particularly important for mental health professionals (MHPs) such as counselors, social workers, psychologists, and graduate students training to be professionals in these fields (Tejera, 2014).  In addition to the common stressors experienced by most, a variety of unique stressors inherent in providing mental health services that may further complicate the ability of MHPs to balance work and personal life (Røssler, 2012).  Among these unique stressors, some examples commonly cited are decreasing pay, heavy workloads, role conflict and amibiguity, the emotional strain of mental health work, and patient suicide.  Likely related to these stressors, previous researchers have found MHPs are increasingly vulnerable themselves to difficulties such as professional burnout, substance use, relationship discord, and depression (Coster & Scwebel, 1997; Røssler, 2012).

Furthermore, gender might also play a part in achieving work-life balance for females due to increased involvement in other life roles compared to male counterparts and decreased job satisfaction related to lower pay and lower perceived status (Bryant & Constantine, 2006).  Unsurprisingly, past research has suggested females are more likely to experience professional burnout due to an increased tendency toward emotional exhaustion as opposed to dissociation more commonly experienced by males (Purvanova & Muros, 2010).  As mental health professions continue to become predominantly female occupied, an acknowledgement of gender as an additional factor in work-life balance attainment might be warranted.

After reviewing the existing literature on the topic, many questions about work-life balance within mental health professions present themselves, a few of which are:

  • Has there been sufficient research to date on the importance of work-life balance in mental health professions?
  • What are some possible new avenues of research that could be explored?
  • Is work-life balance ever presented as part of curriculum to MHPs in their training?
  • Should training programs and mental health service organizations be tasked with actively attempting to facilitate their members’ work-life balance?
  • What might be some effective means for programs or organizations attempt to do so?

The answers to these questions and others not stated here concerning work-life balance likely hold broad significance for various mental health professions.  Working individuals regardless of profession should receive education about the importance of work-life balance, which may benefit not only their well-being but their organization as well.  Additionally, due to stressors associated with providing mental health services and the possible effect of provider well-being on outcomes, work-life balance education and personal counseling might directly benefit not only MHPs but client success as well.  It is often easy to forget that, despite being trained to facilitate the mental health of others, mental health professionals are also humans whom experience stressors and vulnerabilities themselves.

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