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In March 2020, like many of my colleagues, I found myself navigating the dual roles of clinical psychologist and parent while grappling with an unprecedented global crisis. 

As the pandemic unfolded, virtual therapy took over, and I felt grateful that my behavioral health program was able to adapt our services to COVID-19’s social distancing requirements. I had a full schedule of individual sessions, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and partial hospitalization programs (PHP). My caseload reached 30 direct care hours per week, including leading PHP and IOP groups for individuals grappling with severe mental health conditions. 

My house became both my home and my workspace. I carved out a workstation for therapy sessions in the basement, a quiet corner amid the noisy family life on the floor above. During my brief 10-minute breaks between sessions, I had to make important decisions on how to spend that precious time: would I eat lunch, check in with my family, help my kiddos with their homework, or simply catch my breath? 

Before the pandemic, I cherished the ritual of a brief car ride at the day’s end. It was a time to reflect on the clients I’d seen before transitioning to home life. Suddenly, those car rides were gone—and the absence of true breaks, combined with the blurred lines between personal and professional spaces, weighed heavily on me. I also felt the absence of my cherished colleagues—their humor, intelligence, and camaraderie during our lunchtime chats, and the mutual support we offered one another.

One day, emerging from the depths of the basement after a long day of back-to-back sessions, I imagined myself returning from a coal mine—a metaphor that seemed to resonate deeply with me in the coming months. It was strange to find that providing therapy, which used to bring me so much joy, could also feel at times draining—and just like any other routine job. The experience made me realize you can still get exhausted doing what you love.

Evidently, I wasn’t alone in feeling worn out.

Almost half of mental health clinicians reported feeling burnt out in 2022.

With numbers that high, there can be no denying that burnout among behavioral health providers is more than a personal, isolated struggle we experienced during a global pandemic. Widespread burnout among behavioral health providers is indicative of deeper systemic issues that remain firmly implanted in our profession, even now that the pandemic is no longer front-page news.

I see those issues from multiple angles. I still maintain an active practice, and I also focus on supporting fellow clinicians through our technology here at Eleos. Everywhere I turn, I see burnout eroding the passion and effectiveness of those dedicated to supporting mental wellness. It’s a multilayered problem—one born from the relentless demands of the job, the endless administrative tasks, and the emotional toll of caring for others. 

Burnout doesn’t just wear down clinicians; it threatens client care. Before we can address the problem, though, we must fully understand it—from both a scientific and experiential perspective. Only when we clearly see the full picture—quantitatively and qualitatively—can we chart a course toward changing it. With that in mind, let’s walk through what the science says.

Research Review: Proven Burnout Factors in Behavioral Health

Reducing provider burnout is a major focus for us here at Eleos, so I try to stay up-to-date on the empirical evidence related to this issue. Here’s the essence of what the research tells us about the biggest factors contributing to burnout in behavioral health.

1. Perceived Job Control

The degree of autonomy and control clinicians feel over their work significantly impacts their risk of burnout. A lack of control can lead to feelings of helplessness and overwhelm (Sun et al.).

2. Nature of Provider Caseloads

The emotional intensity and complexity of client cases that providers must handle on a daily basis can drain their emotional reserves, leading to both compassion fatigue and listening fatigue (Yang & Hayes).

3. Countertransference Reactions

The emotional and psychological responses that therapists have to their clients can complicate therapeutic relationships and contribute to emotional exhaustion (Hong et al., 2023).

4. Supervisory Support

The level of support and guidance providers receive from their supervisors plays a critical role in mitigating the effects of stress and burnout (Yang & Hayes).

5. Providers’ Own Mental Health Struggles

Providers are human beings with their own mental health struggles, which can influence their resilience to burnout. Personal vulnerabilities can exacerbate the impact of job-related stressors (Yang & Hayes).

6. Vicarious Trauma

Frequent exposure to clients’ distressing stories—especially without adequate coping mechanisms or support systems—can lead to secondary traumatization and erode provider well-being over time (Vivolo, Owen, & Fisher).

7. Providers’ Sociodemographic and Intrapersonal Factors

Age, gender, coping styles, and personality traits have all been found to influence provider experiences of burnout and their overall psychological well-being (Van Hoy & Rzeszutek).

8. Work-Related Characteristics

The setting in which providers work, the demands of the job, and the level of professional support available can vary widely and cause a substantial effect on burnout levels (Van Hoy & Rzeszutek).

These research-validated burnout factors are consistent with my personal observations and experiences. What’s missing from the science, though, is an exploration of the many ways systemic pressures are shortening the longevity of mental health careers.

Beyond the Literature: A Personal Perspective

We see burnout in many forms across behavioral health. Case overload, compassion fatigue, listening fatigue, and cynicism aren’t just academic jargon for those of us on the front lines—they’re the reality we face every day.

Eleos Health’s technology is made by clinicians, for clinicians—and many members of our clinical team regularly see clients in various behavioral health settings. So, we use not only research data, but also our own experiences to inform and shape the support Eleos provides to mental health providers. Here’s a slice of what we’ve observed in our clinical lives with respect to the sources of burnout.

Caseload Creep

Each individual therapist has a limit on how many clients they can see in a week while maintaining the level of care each client deserves. When we push beyond this limit, we invite burnout into our professional lives—causing us to drift from evidence-based, active interventions to more passive, listening-based approaches. This not only affects our well-being but also directly impacts client outcomes, and it fosters a cycle of disillusionment and disengagement from the work we once found fulfilling.

The Experience Exodus

But outsized caseloads are just the tip of the iceberg. As burnout leads more experienced clinicians away from the profession in search of “greener pastures,” younger and younger supervisors are tasked with mentoring provisionally licensed professionals. This demographic shift in clinical supervision adds yet another layer of complexity to the burnout problem, as new therapists who need the support of their senior colleagues the most are left to muddle through on their own.

The Pain of Paperwork

Burnout-inducing challenges aren’t limited to direct client care. The administrative burden providers are up against—especially in an era dominated by electronic health records (EHRs)—pulls them further away from the core reason they entered this profession: to help people.

I still remember the frustration I felt navigating through multiple screens, multiple times a day to authenticate my identity and complete my documentation—a process far removed from the care itself. Such tasks, while necessary, chip away at the time and energy we can dedicate to therapeutic work.

Freeing providers from the burden of documentation is one of our biggest rally cries at Eleos, and my experiences bring a deep personal connection to my work here. Our team has made great strides in alleviating the stress caused by overwhelming administrative demands, but a single technology platform—even a proven, science-backed one like Eleos—can’t solve the entire behavioral health burnout crisis on its own.

What we really need is a system-wide re-evaluation of how we support mental health professionals. Technology alone isn’t enough—it’s just one piece of the puzzle. There’s still plenty of work to be done in addressing the many systemic pressures that are squeezing the joy out of our work.

A Multifaceted Solution to a Multifaceted Problem 

I don’t mean to make the situation sound hopeless—far from it. But it is complicated. Providers need more community support and cohesion, even within their own workplaces. A strong sense of belonging and mutual understanding at work forms a powerful buffer against the isolating effects of burnout.

Equally important is the role of leadership in creating operational flexibility, so that every behavioral health organization can acknowledge and adapt to the challenges facing their care teams. When leaders are not only attuned to staff needs, but also empowered to offer the flexibility crucial to allowing providers to maintain their well-being, better outcomes are sure to follow—for providers and clients alike.

And, of course, the impact of administrative support shouldn’t be overlooked. Every one of our teams at Eleos is determined to align our innovation with what providers really need. We dream of a world where burnout is truly a thing of the past—where innovation in tech, care delivery, and clinic operations collide to create the best possible experience for every stakeholder in the care process. We’re focused on building solutions that enrich, rather than detract from, the provider-client relationship—so that ultimately, technology serves as a facilitator of exceptional therapeutic care, rather than a barrier.

But, the path to beating burnout isn’t a solo journey. We invite the entire behavioral health community to join us in this effort to harness community support, flexible leadership practices, improved employment policies, and technological innovation to shape a sustainable future for our field.

Together, we can redefine what it means to support mental health professionals, making burnout a challenge of the past rather than an inevitability of the future.

Want to learn how top behavioral health leaders are beating staff burnout and building great places to work? Check out our new workforce guide.