Overcoming Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Educational Psychology

1-2 minutes

In this blog, you will learn:

  • About burnout and compassion fatigue in educational psychology.
  • Tips and advice for Educational Psychologists to overcome burnout and fatigue.
  • Where the latest Educational Psychologist jobs are.

The role of an Educational Psychologist can be stressful and demanding in any climate, let alone in the wake of a national shortage of Educational Psychologists. 

According to analysis by Schools Week in 2023, there were 360 fewer full-time equivalent Educational Psychologists compared to 2010. A following government report found Educational Psychologists were locked in a ‘vicious cycle’ which was preventing early intervention work.

In March 2024, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman also claimed that the shortage of Educational Psychologists was having a ‘significant impact’ on councils’ ability to meet SEND needs. 

But what about the impact on Educational Psychologists on the ground trying to tackle the rising number of requests for their services? The increasing demands and heavy workload has made it much more likely that Educational Psychologists will suffer from burnout or experience compassion fatigue.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (13th - 19th May), discover what compassion fatigue and burnout is, and how Educational Psychologists can overcome it. 

What is compassion fatigue and burnout?

Compassion fatigue and burnout are often mistaken for each other as there is a similarity in what causes them. Both are more prevalent in professions that deal with long term stress or emotionally draining and demanding roles, such as the role of Educational Psychologists. 

Compassion fatigue comes from consistently dealing with other people’s trauma and suffering, while burnout arises from prolonged and unmanaged stress. Compassion fatigue can be defined as emotional and physical workplace-based fatigue and can result in a reduced capacity to feel compassion for others. It is a type of stress that is caused by supporting or wanting to help those who are suffering and can negatively affect a person’s work and ability to empathise.

A recent report by NHS England found that compassion fatigue was endemic among its 1.3 million staff members. Compassion fatigue can have a negative effect on a person’s work and mental health such as leading them to experience feelings of resentment towards their role and a desire to leave their profession.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion as a result of the long-term effects of chronic, unmanaged stress. Like compassion fatigue, burnout can result in feelings of negativity or cynicism and affect your work.

Symptoms of burnout include:

  • Feelings of exhaustion, energy depletion and ineffectiveness.
  • A decrease in professional efficacy and a lack of productivity.
  • Increased mental distance and detachment from your job.
  • Physical signs such as chronic fatigue and insomnia.

Why are Educational Psychologist's at risk of burnout and compassion fatigue?

Working as an Educational Psychologist is considered to be a highly demanding occupation as they are trained to deliver mental and behavioural health services for children and young people; they are subsequently at higher risk of developing work-related stress, burnout and compassion fatigue.

Considering what Educational Psychologists do and that Educational Psychologists are in demand, it is common for them to experience burnout and compassion fatigue. They are expected to be compassionate, sensitive and have the ability to explore emotional issues, all while remaining unbiased and not becoming emotionally attached to the child or case.

Compassion fatigue is common among Educational Psychologists because they interact and empathise with children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who may have experienced, or are experiencing trauma. 

Due to the sensitive nature of their job and their diverse role in engaging with and caring for children, families and professionals, Educational Psychologists are more likely to experience burnout or compassion fatigue. 

What challenges do Educational Psychologists face?

Being an Educational Psychologist can have its fair share of stress and challenges, made worse by the national shortage of Educational Psychologists. The role of an Educational Psychologist is also considered to be highly stressful due to the emotional demands for empathy, prolonged exposure to suffering, and juggling the demands of children, parents, educational staff and schools. 

The shortage of Educational Psychologists and the rising demands for Education Health Care Plans has resulted in a growing workload and a struggle to get everything done in time. The increase in statutory work and pressure from local authorities, parents and schools is negatively impacting Educational Psychologists ability to complete tasks and meet deadlines. 

This continuous, unresolved stress and feelings of overwhelm can result in ineffective burnout and compassion fatigue.

How can Educational Psychologists overcome burnout and compassion fatigue?

There are many ways to avoid employee burnout and compassion fatigue, and positive changes to tackle this rising issue for Educational Psychologists. It requires a holistic approach to self-care and professional development to be able to ensure well-being and effectiveness.

Overcoming burnout and compassion fatigue is crucial for Educational Psychologists so that they can connect with and support children and young people with their mental health and facilitate positive outcomes.

Tips for Educational Psychologists to overcome burnout and compassion fatigue

5 tips to overcome Educational Psychologist burnout and compassion fatigue include:

  • Recognise the signs.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Practice self-care.
  • Reflect on your purpose.
  • Seek help or support.

Recognise the signs

Being able to recognise the signs of burnout and compassion fatigue before becoming overwhelmed is crucial for Educational Psychologists. Recognising the signs of burnout and compassion fatigue, such as feeling emotionally drained, cynical, or detached from work can allow a quicker turnaround.

It’s important to acknowledge your own limitations, have self-awareness and prioritise your own wellbeing. If you experience any of the symptoms or notice the signs, it is better to do something about it rather than letting it affect you and your work.

Set boundaries

An important strategy to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue in the first place is to put boundaries in place. Establish clear boundaries and have a healthy work and life balance. Educational Psychologists often have an overwhelming desire to put the needs of others before their own, which can mean neglecting their own needs in the process.

Take proactive steps to manage your workload effectively and strike a balance, such as scheduling regular breaks to recharge, avoiding overcommitting yourself and learning to say no when necessary.

Practice self-care

Make self-care and self-compassion a priority, especially during challenging times. It is essential that Educational Psychologists are kind and compassionate to themselves; taking care of your own wellbeing will positively facilitate your ability to provide compassionate care and support to others. 

Engage in activities or hobbies that promote physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing and relaxation. This can involve anything from exercising, practising relaxation and meditation techniques, to journaling and even spending time with family and friends.

Educational Psychologists can benefit from creating their own personalised self-care plan based on their daily life to help them in difficult or overwhelming situations.

Reflect on your purpose

Reconnect with your passion for educational psychology and the meaningful impact your work has on children and young people struggling with their mental health. As compassion fatigue and burnout can result in cynicism towards your job, or even a desire or intention to quit your occupation, it is important to reflect on your purpose to regain your motivation.

Keep up to date with new research and policy reforms to stay in the loop on changes in the industry. It could help to reignite your passion for the industry and remind you why you wanted to become an Educational Psychologist in the first place. 

Seek help or support

Reach out to friends, colleagues, supervisors or mental health professionals for support and guidance. Sharing your experiences and feelings with others can help alleviate feelings of isolation and stress. By voicing your concerns to senior members of staff, you could encourage practical and useful change within the sector.

It’s important to remember that working as an Educational Psychologist is not an easy job and others in your position will have felt the same at some point - or will be feeling the same right now! 

By sharing your experience and insights with colleagues, you could build a supportive network of colleagues, mentors and peers in the educational psychology sector.

By seeking professional counselling or support, you might be able to discover how and why your job has contributed towards burnout and compassion fatigue. By understanding the triggers, you can work towards finding solutions to overcome it.

Educational Psychologist jobs

If you’re searching for your next Educational Psychologist job, why not take a look at the latest vacancies, or simply upload your CV to be notified when a relevant position becomes available.

Considering a career in educational psychology? Learn the ropes in an interview with a trainee educational psychologist and discover many paths to becoming an Educational Psychologist like the training offered by the EPFT scheme.

Struggling to recruit Educational Psychologists?

As specialist local authority SEND recruiters, we support local authorities nationwide with their temporary, interim and permanent staffing needs. 

If you’re struggling to recruit, we have exclusive access to some of the most experienced interim Educational Psychologists in the UK.

Simply contact Natalie Boaler on 01772 954200 to discover how we can help.

Who is Spencer Clarke Group?

Established in 2017, we’re a vibrant and progressive recruitment agency based in the heart of the North West. 

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