e-ISSN 2231-8534
ISSN 0128-7702

Home / Regular Issue / JSSH Vol. 31 (1) Mar. 2023 / JSSH-8586-2022


Counsellors’ Emotions at Work: What Can We Learn from Their Experiences?

Siti Balqis Md Nor, Mohd. Awang Idris and Siti Amirah Ahmad Tarmizi

Pertanika Journal of Social Science and Humanities, Volume 31, Issue 1, March 2023


Keywords: Counsellors, counsellors’ emotions, emotions, work emotions

Published on: 17 March 2023

The counselling profession plays a pivotal role and is often considered emotionally demanding. However, previously published studies on emotions at work have been limited in terms of research among counsellors. Hence, this study aims to explore (1) how counsellors perceive their profession, (2) how their work emotions come about when dealing with clients, (3) and what are the main job demands and resources of the counsellors. The current study employed qualitative research using a phenomenological research design. Individual in-depth semi-structured interviews with 44 registered professional counsellors in Malaysia were conducted to understand their experience of, and perceptions about, the counsellor’s job. Several themes developed based on the literature review, and discussions among the authors were made to see any disagreements regarding the selected themes. The team properly addressed any inconsistencies that arose. The first finding revealed that counsellors perceived their profession as a challenging occupation. As for the second finding, two themes were associated with the counsellors’ emotions at work: (1) positive and (2) negative emotions. Working conditions were the most recurring theme in the last finding of the study that influenced the job demands. In contrast, emotional support and professional growth were two job resources that helped reduce stress among counsellors.

  • Ashmos, D. P., & Duchon, D. (2000). Spirituality at work: A conceptualization and measure. Journal of Management Inquiry, 9(2), 134-145.

  • Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309-328.

  • Bakker, A. B., Lieke, L., Prins, J. T., & van der Heijden, F. M. (2011). Applying the job demands–resources model to the work–home interface: A study among medical residents and their partners. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79(1), 170-180.

  • Bakker, A. B., Schaufeli, W. B., Sixma, H. J., & Bosveld, W. (2001). Burnout contagion among general practitioners. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20(1), 82-98.

  • Baldwin-White, A. (2016). Psychological distress and substance abuse counselors: An exploratory pilot study of multiple dimensions of burnout. Journal of Substance Use, 21(1), 29-34.

  • Barsade, S. G., & O’Neill, O. A. (2014). What’s love got to do with it? A longitudinal study of the culture of companionate love and employee and client outcomes in a long-term care setting. Administrative Science Quarterly, 59(4), 551-598.

  • Bolton, S. C. (2004). Emotion management in the workplace. Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Clinton, M. E., Conway, N., & Sturges, J. (2017). “It’s tough hanging-up a call”: The relationships between calling and work hours, psychological detachment, sleep quality, and morning vigor. Journal Occupational Health Psychology, 22(1), 28-39.

  • Di Mattia, M. A., & Grant, J. (2016). Counselling psychology in Australia: History, status and challenges. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 29(2), 139-149.

  • Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2009). Calling and vocation at work: Definitions and prospects for research and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 37(3), 424-450.

  • Dobrow, S. R., & Tosti‐Kharas, J. (2011). Calling: The development of a scale measure. Personnel Psychology, 64(4), 1001-1049.

  • Dollard, M. F., & McTernan, W. (2011). Psychosocial safety climate: A multilevel theory of work stress in the health and community service sector. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 20(4), 287-293.

  • Duffy, R. D., Bott, E. M., Allan, B. A., Torrey, C. L., & Dik, B. J. (2012). Perceiving a calling, living a calling, and job satisfaction: Testing a moderated, multiple mediator model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59(1), 50-59.

  • Duffy, R. D., Douglass, R. P., Autin, K. L., & Allan, B. A. (2014). Examining predictors and outcomes of a career calling among undergraduate students. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 85(3), 309-318.

  • Elangovan, A., Pinder, C. C., & McLean, M. (2010). Callings and organizational behavior. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76(3), 428-440.

  • Ender, Z., Saricali, M., Satici, S. A., & Eraslan-Capan, B. (2019). Is mindful awareness effective on hope, burnout and self-efficacy among school counsellors in Turkey? British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 47(6), 712-726.

  • Falls, L., & Nichter, M. (2007). The voices of high school counselors: Lived experience of job stress. Journal of School Counseling, 5, Article 13.

  • Fourie, L., Rothmann, S., & Van de Vijver, F. J. (2008). A model of work wellness for non‐professional counsellors in South Africa. Stress and Health, 24(1), 35-47.

  • Furnham, A. (1997). Lay theories of work stress. Work & Stress, 11(1), 68-78.

  • Gill, P., & Baillie, J. (2018). Interviews and focus groups in qualitative research: An update for the digital age. British Dental Journal, 225(7), 668-672.

  • Gill, P., Stewart, K., Treasure, E., & Chadwick, B. (2008). Methods of data collection in qualitative research: Interviews and focus groups. British Dental Journal, 204(6), 291-295.

  • Glaser, B. G. (1992). Basics of grounded theory analysis. Sociology Press.

  • Glaser, B. G. (2008). Qualitative and quantitative research. Sociology Press.

  • Grandey, A. A. (2000). Emotional regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labor. Journal Occupational Health Psychology, 5(1), 95-110.

  • Gutierrez, D., & Mullen, P. R. (2016). Emotional intelligence and the counselor: Examining the relationship of trait emotional intelligence to counselor burnout. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 38(3), 187-200.

  • Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16(2), 250-279.

  • Haney‐Loehlein, D. M., McKenna, R. B., Robie, C., Austin, K., & Ecker, D. (2015). The power of perceived experience: Events that shape work as a calling. The Career Development Quarterly, 63(1), 16-30.

  • Hardiman, P., & Simmonds, J. G. (2013). Spiritual well-being, burnout and trauma in counsellors and psychotherapists. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 16(10), 1044-1055.

  • Hayes, J. A., Gelso, C. J., & Hummel, A. M. (2011). Managing countertransference. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 88-97.

  • Hayes, J. A., McCracken, J. E., McClanahan, M. K., Hill, C. E., Harp, J. S., & Carozzoni, P. (1998). Therapist perspectives on countertransference: Qualitative data in search of a theory. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45(4), 468-482.

  • Hayward, R. M., & Tuckey, M. R. (2011). Emotions in uniform: How nurses regulate emotion at work via emotional boundaries. Human Relations, 64(11), 1501-1523.

  • Hirschi, A. (2012). Callings and work engagement: Moderated mediation model of work meaningfulness, occupational identity, and occupational self-efficacy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59(3), 479-485.

  • Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart. University of California Press.

  • Idris, M. A., & Dollard, M. F. (2011). Psychosocial safety climate, work conditions, and emotions in the workplace: A Malaysian population-based work stress study. International Journal of Stress Management, 18(4), 324-347.

  • Idris, M. A., & Dollard, M. F. (2014). A multi-level study of psychosocial safety climate, challenge and hindrance demands, employee exhaustion, engagement and physical health. In M. F. Dollard, C. Dormann, & M. A. Idris (Eds.), Psychosocial factors at work in the Asia Pacific (pp. 127-143). Springer.

  • Idris, M. A., Dollard, M. F., & Winefield, A. H. (2010). Lay theory explanations of occupational stress: The Malaysian context. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 17(2), 135-153.

  • Jacob, S. A., & Furgerson, S. P. (2012). Writing interview protocols and conducting interviews: Tips for students new to the field of qualitative research. The Qualitative Report, 17(42), 1-10.

  • Kim, I.-H., Noh, S., & Muntaner, C. (2013). Emotional demands and the risks of depression among homecare workers in the USA. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 86(6), 635-644.

  • King, N. (2004).Using templates in the thematic analysis of text. In C. Cassell & G. Symon (Eds.), Essential guide to qualitative methods in organizational research (pp. 256-270). Sage.

  • Kinman, G., & Jones, F. (2005). Lay representations of workplace stress: What do people really mean when they say they are stressed? Work & Stress, 19(2), 101-120.

  • Kvale, S. (1996). InterViews: An introduction to qualitive research interviewing. Sage.

  • Lawson, G., Venart, E., Hazler, R. J., & Kottler, J. A. (2007). Toward a culture of counselor wellness. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 46(1), 5-19.

  • Ling, J., Hunter, S. V., & Maple, M. (2014). Navigating the challenges of trauma counselling: How counsellors thrive and sustain their engagement. Australian Social Work, 67(2), 297-310.

  • Madill, A., Jordan, A., & Shirley, C. (2000). Objectivity and reliability in qualitative analysis: Realist, contextualist and radical constructionist epistemologies. British Journal of Psychology, 91(1), 1-20.

  • Maxwell, J. A. (2012). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (Vol. 41). Sage Publications.

  • May, D. R., Gilson, R. L., & Harter, L. M. (2004). The psychological conditions of meaningfulness, safety and availability and the engagement of the human spirit at work. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77(1), 11-37.

  • Moyer, M. (2011). Effects of non-guidance activities, supervision, and student-to-counselor ratios on school counselor burnout. Journal of School Counseling, 9, Article 5.

  • Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The concept of flow. In M. Csikszentmihalyi (Ed.), Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology (pp. 239-263). Springer.

  • Neuendorf, K. (2002). The content analysis guidebook. Sage Publications, Inc.

  • Paisley, P. O., & McMahon, G. (2001). School counseling for the 21st century: Challenges and opportunities. Professional School Counseling, 5(2), 106-116.

  • Podsakoff, N. P., LePine, J. A., & LePine, M. A. (2007). Differential challenge stressor-hindrance stressor relationships with job attitudes, turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(2), 438-454.

  • Richards, K. C., Campenni, C. E., & Muse-Burke, J. L. (2010). Self-care and well-being in mental health professionals: The mediating effects of self-awareness and mindfulness. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32(3), 247-264.

  • Rogers, C. (2012). Client centred therapy (New ed.). Hachette UK.

  • Santa Maria, A., Wörfel, F., Wolter, C., Gusy, B., Rotter, M., Stark, S., Kleiber, D., & Renneberg, B. (2018). The role of job demands and job resources in the development of emotional exhaustion, depression, and anxiety among police officers. Police Quarterly, 21(1), 109-134.

  • Sonnentag, S., Binnewies, C., & Mojza, E. J. (2010). Staying well and engaged when demands are high: The role of psychological detachment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(5), 965-976.

  • Temitope, K. M., & Williams, M. W. M. (2015). Secondary traumatic stress, burnout and the role of resilience in New Zealand counsellors. New Zealand Journal of Counselling, 35(1), 1-21.

  • von Gilsa, L., Zapf, D., Ohly, S., Trumpold, K., & Machowski, S. (2014). There is more than obeying display rules: Service employees’ motives for emotion regulation in customer interactions. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 23(6), 884-896.

  • Vorkapić, S. T., & Mustapić, J. (2012). Internal and external factors in professional burnout of substance abuse counsellors in Croatia. Annali Dell’istituto Superiore di Sanita, 48, 189-197.

  • Walsh, B., & Walsh, S. (2002). Caseload factors and the psychological well-being of community mental health staff. Journal of Mental Health, 11(1), 67-78.

  • Westman, M. (2001). Stress and strain crossover. Human Relations, 54(6), 717-751.

  • Wilkerson, K. (2009). An examination of burnout among school counselors guided by stress‐strain‐coping theory. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87(4), 428-437.

  • Wilkerson, K., & Bellini, J. (2006). Intrapersonal and organizational factors associated with burnout among school counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 84(4), 440-450.

  • Xanthopoulou, D., Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2007). The role of personal resources in the job demands-resources model. International Journal of Stress Management, 14(2), 121-141.

  • Yulita, I. M. A., Idris, M. A., & Dollard, M. F. (2014). A multi‐level study of psychosocial safety climate, challenge and hindrance demands, employee exhaustion, engagement and physical health. In M. Dollard, A. Shimazu, R. Nordin, P. Brough, & M. Tuckey (Eds.), Psychosocial factors at work in the Asia Pacific (pp. 127-143).

ISSN 0128-7702

e-ISSN 2231-8534

Article ID


Download Full Article PDF

Share this article

Related Articles