Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PhD)


Center for Psychological Studies

First Advisor

William I Dorfman

Second Advisor

Christian DeLucia

Third Advisor

Stacey Lambert


burnout, mental health providers, occupational stress, personality, serious mental illness


Working in health care professions involves many emotional and interpersonal job stressors. Difficulties in handing such stressors commonly lead to a distinctive combination of emotional exhaustion (EE), depersonalization (DP), and reduced personal accomplishment (RPA), a syndrome known as burnout. Although most helping professionals contend with similar demands, mental health workers are faced with many unique pressures. The problem addressed by the proposed research was burnout of mental health providers. More specifically, the current study sought to identify organizational and individual factors that may lead to less--or more--burnout in providers who report having a majority of clients with long-term mental illness and/or substance use disorders (LTMI). Several hypotheses were tested. It was proposed that each of the organizational and personality characteristics would be significantly associated with all three dimensions of burnout and that the majority of the assessed variables would significantly contribute to the prediction of burnout. Exploratory moderation analyses were also conducted. Participants were recruited from regional community mental health centers, social service agencies, and chemical dependency programs. Participants included direct care staff who reported that the majority of work performed was face-to-face with clients diagnosed with LTMI. Demographic information was assessed in addition to three self-report measures. Results of this investigation demonstrated that, contrary to a priori hypotheses, levels of burnout in social services workers serving mostly LTMI clients were generally low. Most of the occupational and personality variables did not account for as much variance of each burnout dimension as expected. However, the full sets of chosen demographic, organizational, and personality variables significantly predicted each dimension of burnout. Psychological demands were most predictive of EE, job insecurity and agreeableness accounted for a significant portion of variance of DP, and none of the organizational or personality variables uniquely contributed to the prediction of RPA. The lack of significance of the proposed predictors may be attributed to several factors, especially the uniqueness of the current sample, nonrandom selection, and potential socially desirable responding. Additional empirical research including a burnout intervention for larger samples of social services workers who work with LTMI is indicated. Practical implications are discussed.

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