Therapy For Teachers: Ins and Outs of Counseling for Educators

tomilynTherapy, Trauma

Teacher Therapy

It takes a special type of person to work in education. You have to be smart, articulate, in touch with pop culture, have a passion for working with kids, and love learning. Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more educators—the people who help shape and raise the next generation of adults—entering therapy for teachers. 

The mental health of teachers across the US has plummeted in recent years. Some of the most shocking statistics from recent studies:

  • 73% of teachers experience frequent job-related stress, compared to 35% of working adults (according to RAND Corporation)
  • 59% of teachers are burned out, compared to 44% of working adults
  • 24% of nonfatal days away from work for teachers in 2014 were related to violent events—events in which teachers were harmed by another person (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics)

As a growing concern across the country, workplace violence seems like it’s becoming more and more common for teachers. While heartbreaking stories like Sandy Hook and Uvalde grab national headlines and spark major debates sporadically throughout the year, these tragedies occur every day all over the country. 

Just a few months ago in Pittsburgh, a student was shot and killed by a classmate outside of Oliver Citywide Academy in North Side. That’s only 11 miles from our office in Allison Park. 

Such violence takes a serious toll on educators all over the country—especially when it’s placed on top of other sources of stress that can push teachers to therapy.

Read on to better understand stressors in the classroom and how teachers can address their anxieties with therapy. 

Table of Contents

Major Stressors Among Teachers
Most Common Reasons We See Teachers For Therapy
Common Teacher Therapy Tactics
Find A Pittsburgh Therapist for Teachers
Our Pittsburgh Teacher Therapists

Major Stressors Among Teachers

The RAND Corporation survey we mentioned earlier offered deep insights into what makes teachers in the United States most stressed. 

Of the teachers RAND Corporation surveyed, the most common stressors were:

Teacher Stressors

  • Supporting students’ academic learning, especially after missed instructional time during the pandemic – 47%
  • Managing student behavior – 29%
  • Taking on extra work because of staff shortages – 25%
  • Supporting student mental health and wellbeing – 24%
  • Spending too much time working – 23%
  • Earning a salary that’s too low – 22%

No doubt about it, being a teacher is hard! As schools slash budgets and place additional responsibilities on top of educators, the job only becomes more difficult with each passing year.

Most Common Reasons We See Teachers for Therapy

Although RAND Corporation’s research is excellent at uncovering why teachers are so stressed out, it doesn’t pinpoint the reasons we see so many teachers in our office. 

The most common reasons teachers work with our therapists include: 

Reasons Teachers See A Therapist

1. Burn Out

Teaching is a grueling job. Although it looks like it’s only 8:00-3:00, Monday through Friday, there’s plenty the general public doesn’t see. Evenings are spent grading tests and papers and summers are spent going back to school, lesson planning, or even working a second job. 

In more than half of all schools across the United States, teachers are being called on to do more with less. In fact, 53% of public schools reported feeling like they were understaffed heading into the 2022-2023 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Between being overworked and facing the rest of the problems on this list, it’s understandable why teachers would seek therapy for additional support!

2. Students Falling Behind 

As bad as school can be for teachers, it can be equally challenging for students. Learning from home rocked students around the country. Suddenly, students couldn’t socialize as much, and they were forced to sit in one chair all day. 

For students in underserved communities and unsafe households, problems only compounded. Children and school districts scrambled to find appropriate technology and internet connections. Some students missed out on access to breakfast and lunch—meals school often provided. 

Many students fell behind. 

Writing for The New York Times, researchers at Harvard and Stanford found that by Spring of 2022, the average student was half a year behind in math and a third of a year behind in reading. 

And teachers are responsible for helping them catch up while making sure they reach their benchmarks. 

3. COVID-Related Safety Issues

In addition to pushing students behind academically, COVID also created a variety of new physical threats to teachers. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, mask use was quickly politicized—to the point where many members of the public railed against them. Still, most schools enacted mandatory mask policies, which left some parents frustrated. 

Unfortunately, much of that frustration was directed at the teachers who were responsible for enforcing in-school mask mandates. We’ve seen many teachers who were physically threatened by parents for ensuring students properly wore their masks inside the classroom. 

In addition, there was (and still is) the threat of catching COVID. All over the world, teachers have been more likely than other workers to catch COVID. That includes medically advanced countries like the US, New Zealand, and the UK.

These rates only compound many other COVID-related issues. By being at higher risk for COVID, teachers are also at an increased risk for experiencing long-term COVID symptoms. 

But teachers missing school because of the coronavirus may also push them to be more stringent about mask mandates and could potentially cause students to fall even further behind in their lessons. 

4. Behavioral Issues

Managing students with behavioral issues is a difficult task, but it’s one teachers are often given—especially in schools with stretched budgets and small staff sizes. 

At best, children with behavioral issues can quickly disrupt a lesson plan. At worst, they can become physically dangerous, potentially putting hardworking teachers and even students in harm’s way. 

Behavioral issues are so bad in some areas of the United States, teachers are required to learn how to safely restrain kids from harming other students—a task they never got into teaching for.  

All of this can be overwhelming for teachers, and it can push them to therapy. 

5. Unsteady Job Security and Benefits

While many teachers have access to good benefits overall, they’re not always confident about job security. 

In fact, many of the teachers we talk to who have babies worry about using FMLA for maternity leave, as they’re not sure if they’ll still have a job when they’re ready to return to work. 

On top of that, a teacher’s benefits are often directly linked to their current employer. So, if a teacher in Pittsburgh’s South Hills moved and began teaching in Cranberry, there’s a chance their salary could drop and their benefits would change. 

These risks can become barriers to advancement in life and in professional settings. 

6. Parents

Angry parents are notorious for causing problems for adults in education settings, including teachers, administrators, and coaches.

As we mentioned earlier, some parents made threats against teachers for enforcing COVID mask mandates, but we’ve also heard of parents lashing out over poor student performance or behavior, especially when the student shifts the blame for their own actions back onto the teacher.

Another way of looking at it: If a teacher has 30 students, they probably have 60 parents to contend with. And in today’s classrooms, parents are often able to email or call the teachers directly—so teachers are always within reach. 

Tempers can be even higher at sporting events, where parents are liable to shout at coaches for more playing time and at referees for calls they made on the field. 

7. Safety

The shooting at Oliver Citywide Academy wasn’t the only fatal accident in Pittsburgh public schools in recent years—nor was it the only such incident at Oliver Citywide Academy. Over the last two years, this high school has experienced a total of two shootings and an assault on a teacher.

No one should have to go to work unsure about whether or not they’ll make it home, but it’s an insecurity teachers experience more and more every day—especially when you consider data from Education Week that found 2022 recorded:

  • 51 school shootings resulting in injury or death
  • 100 people who were injured in a school shooting
  • 40 people who were killed (32 students/children, 8 teachers/adults)


Common Teacher Therapy Tactics

The therapy techniques we use with our teachers varies from case to case. Overall, though, we have found working on emotional regulation and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are two of the best strategies for teachers who need therapy. 

1. Emotional Regulation

In simplest terms, emotional regulation is the ability to understand and control one’s emotions throughout the day. More specifically, though, emotional regulation is the ability to:

  • Identify the emotions you’re currently feeling
  • Accept the emotions you’re currently feeling
  • Appropriately manage bigger emotions like anger, fear, or sadness 
  • Control impulsive behaviors (such as pulling your hair or breaking a pencil) when you’re distressed 

These skills can be critical in an educational setting where children are unpredictable, rowdy, or simply disrespectful—and they’re essential for conflict resolution with students. 

Through our therapy sessions, we help teachers:

  • Understand what emotional regulation is
  • Understand the emotions they feel
  • Connect their emotions to specific behaviors
  • Plan their reactions to specific emotions, especially emotions felt in the classroom or educational settings
  • Regularly check in with their own emotions
  • Build emotional resilience

With the proper emotional regulation skills, these teachers are ready to go back into the classroom as effective leaders!

2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is the mindful practice of focusing on the present moment without outside influences. Instead of focusing on problems or intense emotions, ACT pushes patients to focus on solutions. 

We’ve found Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to be especially impactful for teachers who encounter:

  • Parents who challenge the curriculum
  • New school rules requiring them to teach something they disagree with
  • School budget cuts that negatively impact the classroom
  • And other factors that can make teaching more stressful

With Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, many teachers are ready to tackle whatever obstacles come their way! 

Teacher Therapy Case Studies

Here are a couple of examples of the teachers we’ve worked with over the years: 

Teacher 1 

We worked with a music teacher who felt like her life was out of control. In the interest of avoiding parents outside of school, she commuted from Pittsburgh’s North Hills to teach in the South Hills, which meant she could be away from home for as long as 13-14 hours per day—long shifts that occurred during concert and musical seasons (activities she was expected to lead but rarely paid for). The biggest problem, though, was finding time to be with her child with special needs. She often felt torn in multiple directions, but her responsibilities at school made her feel like she was abandoning her own child. 

Through our sessions, we helped the teacher sort through the primary sources of stress within her life so she can focus on the things she does have control over. Instead of focusing on the time she’s missing, she can now focus on the quality time she spends with her daughter and the rest of her loved ones. 

Teacher 2

When the newspaper headlines are filled with stories of mass shootings at schools and high school parking lots and cafeterias become hotbeds for fist fights, it’s natural for teachers to become wary of violence. 

One teacher who came to us was exhausted by a constant fear of violence, including the violence she occasionally witnessed at school. 

We worked with her to move beyond her fear of violence, then helped her focus on creating nurturing environments for her students. 

Find A Pittsburgh Therapist for Teachers

The therapists at My Wellness Center are ready to help teachers! Contact us to learn about insurance options or to schedule an appointment. 

Our Pittsburgh Teacher Therapists

Pick from one of our many therapists for teacher therapy: