Experiences of clinical psychologists: a systematic review exploring stress, burnout and coping strategies, and a qualitative perspective on working with people with intellectual disabilities and behaviour that challenges
Scott, Emilly Jessica
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Background: Stress and burnout is often reported within the ‘human service’ professions. A systematic review aimed to ascertain the prevalence of stress and burnout within clinical psychologists, and the coping strategies utilised by members of this profession. Specifically, the role of clinical psychologists that work with people with intellectual disabilities and behaviour that challenges may, arguably, be particularly challenging, given the risks inherent in behaviour that challenges. Previous work has found that paid and family carers for this population experience substantial levels of stress. However, little is known about the experiences of clinical psychologists who may play a pivotal role in the multi-disciplinary team supporting individuals and their carers. Methods: The systematic review explores the prevalence of stress, burnout and coping in clinical psychologists. An electronic review and hand search of the literature was completed. The quality of all eligible articles was assessed, and themes within the findings were discussed using a narrative synthesis approach. The subsequent empirical article explores the perspectives of 14 female clinical psychologists. Thematic analysis was utilised to derive themes from their interview transcripts. Results: Eight studies met inclusion criteria for the review; findings suggest that a large proportion of clinical psychologists experience symptoms of stress and burnout. Nevertheless, most psychologists also experience high levels of personal achievement in their role. Within the empirical study, two overarching themes were apparent across participants. These included difficult and positive experiences. Participants reported barriers to influencing change and feelings of stress, worry, anxiety, self-doubt and frustration within the role. However, supervision and support from colleagues appeared to moderate difficult emotions. All conveyed a sense of reward within their role. Conclusions: Comparable to other ‘human service’ professionals, clinical psychologists experience symptoms of stress and burnout. With regard to clinical psychologists working with people with intellectual disabilities and behaviour that challenges, it appears that supervision and support from colleagues is key in managing difficult emotions. Based on the findings, provisions that are believed to improve clinical psychologists’ experiences are considered.