Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Data from 195 psychologists who responded to the first wave of a two-wave longitudinal survey on work and family lives were used to investigate the relationship between challenging client behaviors, coping and burnout among professional psychologists. The study had four main aims: (1) defining and identifying different types of challenging client behaviors, (2) examining the link between these behaviors to the three dimensions of burnout as defined by Maslach and Jackson (1996), (3) examining the effects of coping on burnout, and (4) examining the moderating effects of coping on the relationship between challenging client behaviors and burnout.

These aims were accomplished by first creating a measure of challenging client behaviors, derived from both the empirical and clinical literatures. Confirmatory Factor Analysis yielded two factors: one the represented Demanding/resistant behaviors (e.g., being late) and one that represented Immature/aggressive behaviors (e.g., threat of harm to oneself or others). Both the Demanding/resistant and Immature/aggressive subscales were significantly and positively related to depersonalization, and the Demanding/resistant subscale was significantly and positively related to emotional exhaustion. Of the coping strategies examined, one adaptive strategy, positive reinterpretation and growth, emerged as significantly and negatively related to depersonalization; and it also mediated the relationship between Immature/aggressive behaviors and emotional exhaustion. Two maladaptive strategies were also related to burnout; denial was positively related to depersonalization, and substance abuse was related to both emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

These results highlight the importance of viewing challenging client behaviors as a salient stressors associated with clinical work. They also encourage a more specific examination of these behaviors, as two distinct categories emerged, each with different relationships to burnout. Finally, it becomes particularly important to acknowledge the role of positive reinterpretation and growth, the only coping strategy that was significantly and negatively related to burnout. More research into the mechanisms through which this coping strategy mitigates the stressful effects of clinical work is needed. It is expected that these results represent an important point of entry for continued research and preventive efforts, and will help expand the literature on burnout and coping among human services providers

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