A survey of mental health providers found that providers without mental health lived experience have burnout when they believe their clients are not improving. These findings were published in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

Mental health providers (N=179) employed at a community mental health service organization in Australia were recruited for this study. In 2020, providers were surveyed using the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory, Brayfield and Rothe’s job satisfaction scale, Job Engagement Scale, Boroff and Lewin’s scale for intention to resign, and Warr’s workplace well-being scale to evaluate their perception of their patient’s improvement and its effect on burnout.

The participants were mostly women (n=131), they were relatively evenly split by decade of age between <30-59 years, they had been working in the mental health field for an average of 5.92 years (range, 1 month-37 years), and 3.65 years (range, 1 month-18 years) in their current position.

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Most (n=112) said they had lived experience with mental health issues. Among those with a lived experience, they stated their symptoms affected their daily life an average of 7.13±1.99 points on a ten-point scale.

In general, practitioners felt their clients were improving.

The perception that their client was not improving correlated with job engagement (r, 0.48; P <.001), client-related burnout (r, 0.37; P <.001), job satisfaction (r, 0.30; P <.001), workplace well-being (r, 0.26; P <.001), intention to resign the profession (r, -0.23; P <.01), and intention to resign the organization (r, -0.15; P <.05).

Client-related burnout was correlated with job satisfaction (r, 0.40; P <.001), job engagement (r, 0.40; P <.001), workplace well-being (r, 0.40; P <.001), intension to resign the profession (r, -0.40; P <.001), and intension to resign the organization (r, -0.26; P <.01).

Having a perception that clients were not improving was a contributing factor to burnout and the relationship between client improvement and burnout was moderated by having lived experience. In which, the relationship between client improvement and client-related burnout was stronger among those without lived experience (b, 0.591; P <.001) than those with experience (b, 0.175; P =.017).

This study was limited by its cross-sectional design, and it remains unclear whether perception of client improvement is causal for client-associated burnout.

The study authors concluded, “This study provided evidence that long-term efforts to assist clients, coupled with feelings that only limited progress is being made, were associated with client-related burnout. Nonetheless, this relationship was weaker among staff who identified as having lived experience, demonstrating a previously undocumented benefit of lived experience. Given the high rates of burnout in the mental health profession, future research should explore why lived experience protects staff from client-related burnout.”


von Hippel C, Brener L, Rose G. Lived experience as a protective factor for mental health workers. Psychiatr Serv. Published online March 16, 2022. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.202100468

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor