New study shows 'superhero stereotypes' contributes to first responder burnout

Experts say movements meant to show reverence and gratitude can also factor into a concept called “meta-dehumanization”

Joanna Putman

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A new study examines the reasoning behind first responder burnout, suggesting a concept called “meta-dehumanization” may be a major culprit, according to the American Counseling Association.

The organization defines meta-dehumanization as “the belief that one’s group is denied humanity.” According to the new study, which examined more than 200 first responders, there is a link between this belief and higher burnout.

Dr. Kari M. Mika-Lude, lead author of the study, said that some movements and slogans intended to show “reverence and appreciation” can have an unintended underlying message: ‘Superheroes don’t need rest. Superheroes don’t need help. Superheroes are there to protect and save the rest of us.’

“The superhero stereotype unintentionally deprives the first responder of humanness and a need for care,” Mika-Lude said.

Counselors who work with first responders should educate themselves about the professional culture and reject the superhero stereotypes to avoid furthering clients’ feelings of being dehumanized, the authors of the study wrote.

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