“The expression that clients “share their trauma” with their therapists is more than a turn of a phrase.” (p. 1529).
According to Rempala (2013), therapist’s burnout happens as a consequence of severe mental and emotional fatigue. Since it often occurs among therapists, the term therapist burnout has shown up.
Therapists are often exposed to traumatized individuals day in and day out, and therapists and clients become emotionally connected because of the empathic bond they establish.
But this empathic bond makes therapists vulnerable to emotional contagion, and as a consequence, the unstable emotions of clients are likely to influence the therapist in a negative way.
In fact, therapists who have witnessed a client suicide have shown as high stress reactions as people who have been traumatized by the death of a family member.
Furthermore, the heart rates of clients and therapists have been found to speed up and slow down synchronically over the course of the therapeutic session.
Another study has shown that 14% of mental health practitioners, who work with trauma populations, have shown symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (known as vicarious traumatization).
These examples illustrate how emotional contagion may affect the therapist. Rempala (2013) further emphasizes that there is some evidence that substance-abuse therapists and occupational therapists are as vulnerable as clinical psychologists.
Some studies have also shown that therapist burnout is as common among therapists working with non-trauma clients as those who work with trauma clients.
Another finding is that clients may also suffer from burnout from the stress of therapy. Theoretically speaking, therapy may stress the client if the therapist has become burned out.
This burnout and emotional fatigue may be transmitted back to the client, resulting in increased personal distress. For this reason, burnouts should be avoided by all means.