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Psychiatrist Raises Alarm About Guidance Counsellor Burnout, Calls For More to be Employed in Schools

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2016 | 12:00 AM
File Hickling

Leading Jamaican psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of the West Indies, Professor Frederick Hickling has raised concerns about the high levels of stress and the risk of burnout facing guidance counsellors.

Responding to questions of whether or not counsellor burnout is a real fear in Jamaica, Hickling said, "Definitely. There are not enough guidance counsellors in our schools and there is not enough high-level psychological professional backing-up for the guidance counsellors in schools."

Hickling said, however, that high stress was an inevitable hazard of the profession.

"The stress factors relate to complex trauma that children experience in their lives ... this includes physical and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to violence, among many others," he said.

Nina Dixon, president of the Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors in Education, believes there is a high level of stress among local guidance counsellors.

In an interview with The Gleaner, she said, "... especially in the primary schools where the counsellors have to play the nurse and all of that, it is really too much and we are stretched really thin at times. When you look at inner-city schools, it's a myriad of challenges that come with those students every day, so counsellors do feel stressed."

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Counselling and Development estimated that 10-20 per cent of guidance counsellors in the United States were dissatisfied with their jobs, which makes them vulnerable to professional exhaustion and burnout.

Hickling is of the view that guidance counsellors in Jamaica face burnout because they are not sufficiently trained to handle the high levels of stress associated with dealing with the myriad social issues they face in schools.

"There are not enough guidance counsellors in our schools. They are not comprehensively or appropriately trained. Many schools do not know how guidance counsellors should be used in the schools. Many guidance counsellors are used as 'fill-in teachers' when there is a shortage of trained teachers in the school," he said.

There are approximately 800 guidance counsellors working in more than 1,000 schools across Jamaica.