A national survey of occupational stress, psychological strain and coping resources in elementary school counselors

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Virginia Tech


The Occupational Stress Inventory (OSI) and a Data Form were used to describe levels of occupational stress, psychological strain, and coping resources of 500 randomly selected elementary school counselors across the United States. Stress, strain, and coping were examined at levels of demographic variables including age, gender, school size and setting, parental status, years in profession, schools served, marital status, students assigned, and hours worked.

Data were collected by mail survey which had an 84% (n = 410) return rate. Of these, 310 were usable for data analysis. Respondents averaged 44.18 years old; 87.1% were female. Approximately three fourths had less than 10 years experience in their jobs, worked in education more than 8 years, were married, and were parents.

Scores on the OSI for stress, psychological strain, and coping resources fell in the average ranges for all subscales. Examination of levels of demographic variables revealed Role Overload, Role Boundary, and Role Ambiguity subscales were higher for counselors serving three or more schools. Counselors serving schools in two or more kinds of geographic settings reported higher Role Overload and Responsibility stress.

Elementary school counselors who were parents of one child had higher overall scores on Psychological, Interpersonal, and Physical strain scales compared to parents with two children.

Counselors aged 56 & older showed better Self-care and Recreational coping scores than some younger counterparts. Parents scored significantly lower on the Recreational and Self-care scales compared to non-parents, as did counselors who were parents of one child compared to parents of two.

It is recommended that counselor educators attempt to increase student awareness of the importance of developing coping skills to apply to their own occupational stress. This should be emphasized during practicum and internship activities. Legislative or administrative action may help provide support for counselors in the form of increased parental leave time, assignment to fewer than three schools, or assignment to schools located in similar geographic settings. Counselor education programs are urged to teach counselors organizational skills, systematic problem solving, and time management skills. Recommendations for further research are made.