New survey data shows that depression, uncertainty, and other student mental health concerns linger even while support networks are growing

College Counseling Center Study Reveals Widespread Care Provider Burnout Driven by COVID-19

  • Ninety-one percent of directors and clinicians surveyed across 120 college counseling centers reported experiencing pandemic-driven burnout during the 2020 Fall semester
  • Surge in burnout puts providers at higher risk for increased mental and physical health conditions, decreased productivity and staff turnover 
  • Burnout wave is ill-timed as student mental health services demand rises 


Mantra Health today released a new study in collaboration with college mental health leaders Dr. David Walden and Dr. Harry Rockland-Miller. Highlighting findings from 120 U.S. colleges and universities, the study reveals that almost all (91%) college counseling center directors and clinicians have experienced burnout during the 2020 Fall semester due to COVID-19.

Titled Provider Burnout in Counseling Centers Due to COVID-19: Implications and Recommendations for Improving Work Satisfaction and Overall Well-Being, the study includes the findings from a national survey of U.S. higher education institutions conducted between November 25, 2020 and December 8, 2020. Among the 139 respondents from counseling centers, 79 were directors and 60 were clinicians. The full study offers recommendations from David Walden, PhD Director, Counseling Center at Hamilton College and Harry Rockland-Miller, PhD Director Emeritus, Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, University of Massachusetts Amherst, to improve providers’ work satisfaction and overall well-being to prevent and decrease staff burnout.

Major findings include: 

  • The rate of self-reported burnout was 92% among college counseling center directors and 90% among clinical staff at college counseling centers
  • Within the clinician respondents, 40% claimed that they would benefit from “reduced workload through expanded clinical team or outside support.”
  • More than half of directors (56%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that they have enough energy after work for leisure activities
  • Signs of burnout among clinicians include 40% agreed or strongly agreed that they are working more hours than usual, and 45% agreed or strongly agreed that their workload compromises their ability to provide quality care
  • When both groups were asked what has helped or could help alleviate burnout, the three most common themes were:
  1. (37%) Staff camaraderie and personal connections with coworkers
  2. (30%) A culture of openness to acknowledge and discuss burnout
  3. (30%) More vacation time or greater flexibility around vacation time

The demand for mental health services at colleges and universities was already increasing pre-pandemic, and that trend has accelerated in the past year. In an October 2020 study by American Campus Communities, 85% of college students reported feeling more stress and anxiety compared to one year ago.  College counseling centers have been faced with both greater volume and greater complexity of cases and as one clinician described in their survey response, “higher acuity in client presentation has required more energy, attention, and case management on top of regular client load.”

The study emphasizes that mental health providers experiencing burnout are at heightened risk for developing their own mental or physical health conditions, including depression. Burnout can also lead to increased staff turnover, depersonalization (or cynical attitudes toward work), and reduced self-efficacy. These consequences are particularly severe in the context of college mental health, where students’ health, safety, and well-being depends on consistent high-quality care.

“The findings are concerning for our industry because as we state in the study, the impact of the subsequent burnout, isolation, and reduced capacity for self-care means that not only will we be less effective in this work,” said David Walden, PhD Director, Counseling Center at Hamilton College. “But we will likely see increased turnover and less people willing to enter into the field.”

The study offers valuable considerations to reduce burnout and to foster a critical sense of connection and teamwork, focused on four themes that capture the qualitative feedback collected from the survey, as well as existing literature. These themes include, togetherness, openness, boundaries, and increasing meaning.

“We need to remind our colleagues that there is no substitute for rest when exhaustion is the problem,” said Harry Rockland-Miller, PhD Director Emeritus, Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, University of Massachusetts Amherst. “In order to decrease burnout during this critical time for college counseling centers we must remember that wellness activities and other supports are essential, but will not be effective if people are exhausted and can’t fully participate in them. A workplace characterized by mutual support and connection allows staff to move forward even with the inherent stress of this work. It is important for us to model the very boundaries we seek to encourage in the communities we treat.”

“Although Mantra Health’s main focus is to improve access to quality mental health care for college students, we are also committed to improving provider satisfaction and use technology within our ‘closed loop’ virtual care to lower administrative burden,” said Kelly Carleton Clinical Operations Director at Mantra Health. “The purpose of this study is to shed light on the state of college and university counseling centers and the increased utilization they are experiencing due to COVID-19. We hope providers are able to take time for themselves over the Winter break and the rate of burnout decreases during Spring semester. ”

Click here to download the full study:


About Mantra Health

Mantra Health’s mission is to improve the mental health of young adults by making evidence-based mental health services, including psychiatric specialty care, within reach of all colleges and universities. Mantra Health partners with institutions of higher education to respond to the campus mental health crisis, making sure young people navigate the transition to adulthood with the mental health support services they need. Mantra Health’s innovative closed-loop telehealth platform makes evidence-based mental health services accessible and affordable by integrating directly with college and university health, wellness and counseling centers. Learn more about Mantra Health at

eCampus News Staff