Mechanisms of Change within a Brief, Phone-Based, Behavioral Intervention for Graduate Burnout
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Emerging changes in health care reform have further accelerated the need for brief and cost-effective interventions. As such, the current study tested the efficacy of two brief, phone-administered, behavioral interventions derived from behavioral activation (BA) in reducing burnout among graduate students. 66 adults currently enrolled in a doctoral program in the state of North Carolina and demonstrating current burnout were randomly assigned to one of three intervention conditions: 1) Reward: a brief intervention to help participants increase pleasant, rewarding behaviors, 2) Approach: a brief intervention to help participants approach important goals that they have been avoiding due to emotion (fear, stress, sadness) or 3) Control: a condition that involves monitoring only. All participants completed three days of daily monitoring, conducted through an online survey platform, in order to attain baseline indices of mood and activities. They then received a brief intervention over the phone and completed 7 days of additional online self-monitoring while completing the intervention. Participants completed a self-report packet assessing burnout, perceived stress, behavioral activation, experiential avoidance, mastery, anxiety and depression symptoms, quality of life, and functional impairment at baseline, post-intervention, and a 1-week follow-up assessment.
The study found that individuals in the Approach condition showed significant reductions in burnout post-intervention and at a one-week follow-up assessment, compared to individuals in the Control condition. In addition, individuals in the Approach condition showed significant improvements in well-being and significant increases in behavioral activation, compared to individuals in the Control condition. These findings suggest that a one-time intervention designed to help individuals approach challenging, avoided tasks may significantly improve indices of distress and dysfunction among doctoral-level graduate students.
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