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IUPUI Research Explores How Reducing Staff Burnout for Mental Health Workers Impacts Patient Outcomes

Release Date: 
Sep 30 2013

A national research funding organization dedicated to improving patient-centered outcomes in the health care system has awarded $1.5 million to a team of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) researchers to study how staff burnout affects the treatment and progress of mental health patients.

Michelle Salyers
Michelle Salyers, Ph.D.

Staff burnout—emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of patient treatment and a lost sense of personal achievement—is a common issue facing mental health employees. Past research supports that burnout has a negative effect on clinical providers and the patients they serve, but few studies have explored intervention methods that might improve outcomes for both groups in the treatment relationship.

The $1.5 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) will support a team of researchers in the Department of Psychology at IUPUI as they implement the three-year study. The effort is designed to understand the patient perspective of clinician burnout, enact an intervention program and test a framework that examines how burnout is linked to processes, engagement and outcomes.

“We hope to be able to intervene successfully so that clinicians feel less burned out and stressed on the job and more engaged in the quality of care they are delivering,” said Michelle Salyers, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Science at IUPUI and co-director of the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Center of Indiana. “The (patients) will benefit from a caregiver who is fully invested in building strong alliances with them and to working more effectively together.”

Salyers is joined on the research team by Assistant Professor Elizabeth Boyd, Ph.D., and ACT Center representatives Heidi Hedrick, M.S., project manager; Angela Rollins, Ph.D., research director; and Dawn Shimp, research assistant. Gary Morse, Ph.D., of Places for People, Inc., of Missouri, is the co-developer of the BREATHE intervention.

The crux of their research proposal is the Burnout Reduction: Enhanced Awareness, Tools, Handouts and Education (BREATHE) program, which has shown promise in clinical trials for reducing burnout and developing more positive attitudes among caregivers toward patients. BREATHE incorporates traditional stress-reduction techniques, cognitive behavioral practices, social-skills training and other self-care strategies. Gary Morse, Ph.D., of Places for People, Inc., of Missouri, is the co-developer of the BREATHE intervention.

The program includes several phases and opportunities for the feedback from patients and clinicians to be incorporated and addressed during the intervention strategy, Boyd said. It will test both the interventions and the effect of those actions on patient outcomes, which the team suggests may extend beyond mental health providers to other industries and other job performance metrics.

“Currently, there is great interest in any interventions, processes or wellness initiatives that could have a positive effect on the bottom line,” Boyd said.

Elizabeth Boyd
Elizabeth Boyd, Ph.D.

Boyd, whose expertise is in industrial and organizational psychology, was paired with Salyers, an accomplished clinical psychology researcher, through IUPUI’s Enhanced Mentoring Program with Opportunities for Ways to Excel in Research (EMPOWER) program. The EMPOWER program is jointly sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the IUPUI Office of Women. It supports IUPUI faculty in underrepresented or excluded populations through mentoring relationships.

“This program provided me with a structured mentoring relationship and support for submitting external research grants, both of which were invaluable to me,” Boyd said.

The study is one of 71 projects totaling more than $114 million approved on Sept. 10 for funding by PCORI’s Board of Governors. All were selected through a highly competitive review process in which scientists, patients, caregivers and other stakeholders helped to evaluate more than 570 proposals. All awards were approved pending the completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff.

About PCORI:

The PCORI is an independent, non-profit organization authorized by Congress in 2010. Its mission is to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed health care decisions. PCORI is committed to continuously seeking input from a broad range of stakeholders to guide its work. More information can be found at