Recently I witnessed one of my closest friends giver her testimony in front of her church. She talked about how she struggled with some things and how God has used that in her life to help others (she is also a therapist). It took a lot of courage for her to be vulnerable, even with people she knew were supportive and loving in her life. I am thankful I was there to support her.
It got me thinking on the way home about some things.
I used to believe that as a therapist I’m supposed to have it all together all the time. We are taught as therapists to have a professional distance from our clients. We are to limit our self-disclosure with clients about our own struggles. While these limitations are certainly helpful and ethical in the professional setting so that we can be objective with our clients,(because there is nothing worse than dumping your own junk onto your clients) there is a danger that this distance can carry over into the rest of our relationships and become a protective façade that we have it all together all the time. In the beginning of my career somewhere I allowed that lie into my life, and learned how to put on a good face, and somehow believed that when I am vulnerable with my emotions that somehow I am weak. I believed that I have to pretend that I have it all together all the time.
The truth is, therapists are people who hurt and go through things just like everyone else. I have been seeing my own therapist for almost 8 years now to deal with my own work/life balance, anxieties and times when I’ve hit burnout. The more I meet with people, work with my clients, supervisees and talk to colleagues, I believe now that there is a purpose for our challenges, whether that purpose is revealed to us or not. God will use them to work through us for the good of others and ourselves.
It’s never without a purpose. That’s why I believe being vulnerable with others about our struggles is so healing. I could see the hope, joy, and peace in my friend’s face as she took the courage to share, and how the façade came down in her life and she could be vulnerable with others. It was freeing.
For more information on being vulnerable, watch Dr. Brene Brown’s Ted talk on her vulnerability research.
It’s the day after a medical procedure and I’m still recovering. I have some help the day of but then I’m up and driving around the next day. I feel 75% myself, just sore. It’s been difficult to get rest and entertain my kids and get ready for my birthday party next week. And even though I gave everyone at work notice, it seems I still get client calls and messages. My brain got overwhelmed, and I found myself in a mood. You know the one. The one where I NEED to take care of myself physically and mentally but I can’t seem to turn off the thoughts. Thoughts of the to-do’s, thoughts of cases I need to address, and thoughts of the pressure I’ve felt the last few months. The overwhelm had sunken in and I caught myself spreading myself too thin.
How do I stop when my body is saying stop, slow down, but my mind says, go-go-go? I tried all the tricks, avoiding, talking to my hubby, trying to focus on the here and now, and even giving into some of the to do’s. All signs that I need to put on the breaks and re-adjust some parts of my life so that I can take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s crunch time. It feels like forever, but it’s not. There will be an end. Boundaries will be set, and space will be made where it needs to be.
It’s time to focus on what’s in front of me, the little people in my life, my faith, and my family. Serving others is most of what I do and there comes a point where it can overtake your life if you’re not paying attention, and I have to pull back some places and set more boundaries. Allow others help, to take over parts of my to do list (or trim it), and allow others to adjust around me rather than myself adjusting to them all the time. It’s a difficult shift for me. I tend to want to please others, and I’m hard on myself when I say no or if I can’t make everyone happy. I allow false guilt to set in if I’m not paying attention to my thoughts. But the truth is, I will never make everyone happy all the time I am not their source of happiness or healing. I am not the answer to all their problems. I am only a vessel that God allows to work through me. Boundaries allow God to work through me and teach others to rely on Him and to open doors for them. Sometimes my saying no and setting boundaries is leaving space for God to work in someone else’s life just as much as giving Him space to work in mine. It’s a freeing experience, really, to say no to something or set a boundary somewhere because it helps guide you to your goals, so you can let go of the things you need to.
What do you need to let go of when you find yourself needing to slow down? Leave a comment below and let’s support each other’s boundaries.
Since last year I’ve been working on a lot of goals. I opened a business and started working with supervisees for the first time. I’m putting myself out there as a trainer/speaker for the first time. First, first, first.
Adding these responsibilities have really stretched me and challenged me in a lot of ways. I’m learning to experience the emotions that come with owning something with your name on it. I am by no means an expert at business, but I like the challenge and I’m learning as I go. I was looking to grow and change and challenge myself. I’m accomplishing just that, and in the process I’ve done a lot of new things I’ve never done before. It’s a very exciting time for me.
The Challenge of Uncertainty
On the other side of taking these steps to obtain my goals in the counseling field comes a lot of uncertainty. Financial uncertainty, will I have enough clients, will supervisees come to see me, and what if I work months on a training and no one shows up? Fear of failure and the unknown can easily creep in.
The thing is, change and uncertainty are very challenging for me, and probably for many others. I tend to like plans and to know what’s next. Those that know me know how scheduled I am and how I like to plan my life way in advance. Business challenges that for me on so many levels. I’m very loyal and dedicated and I will drag out a tough situation that’s not great just to avoid the change and stay in my comfort zone. On the positive, this makes me a very loyal and consistent person and I’m great at commitment, but if I don’t keep myself in check I will continue a sometimes difficult or not good for me but good for them situation, or get stuck in the mundane.
It’s Not Just Me!
I’ve noticed some of the same challenges with change and uncertainty with people that I work with. Either they hit a new milestone in their career, like getting their license and begin to explore their options, or they’ve decided to change the way they are doing something in their home or work life and dealing with the ambivalence that can sometimes follow the decision to make a change.
I read this morning on one of my favorite websites “Unstuck.com” that our brains see uncertainty as a challenge.That we try to make up something certain in our minds to deal with the uncertainty because we are wired to survive that way. This makes since in a survival situation, but it can sometimes be a stumbling block to a positive change. People tent to have trouble seeing past the ambiguity to the other side of the change. It takes a greater payout on the other end for people to walk through the uncertainty.
So Now What?
I was talking with someone I trust yesterday about some of the uncertainty I’m experiencing right now and she asked me how could I view uncertainty differently, rather than a threat? Or a fear? Well, here’s what I’ve come up with:
Change is certain.
Change is sometimes necessary.
View it as an opportunity to be creative with your life.
Write out the positives of the end goals.
Practice self-care rituals to deal with the emotions of the change.
Lean on your support, your tribe, or who ever you go to for accountability and
Practice your faith and trust in you God, and also yourself to make the right steps.
Focus on the next step right in front of you, (Thank you Oprah for this one!)
I was prompted this week by a situation to share my experience at a time early in my career when I was struggling with burnout. I hope you find it helpful.
I began working with children who are traumatized as an intern during my graduate school program in 2005. I was working a full time job at a mental health agency with severe mentally ill adults while attempting to maintain a 20-30 hour a week internship at a domestic violence shelter. I was burning the candle at both ends. Before I knew it I was losing sleep, not eating regularly, and I had constant thoughts about clients I was serving, including a feelings of guilt over a difficult client situation at my job.
I didn’t notice it in the beginning. It didn’t start right a way. It was more of a gradual progression of overwork, and attempting to balance everything on my own. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I didn’t understand the signs that I was burning out on my own.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t remember it being talked about a lot in my graduate school classes at the time (I hope things have changed). It happened because I was new to the field still, and also because it wasn’t talked about and it had begun to feel almost normal to me.
It wasn’t until a supervisor of mine returned from some time off and sat down with me and told me to seek my own therapy that I realized how stressed out I was and that I needed to make some changes. She was kind, honest, and identified the signs that I was burning out. I will never forget that. I will always value that.
How did I know I was burning out?
Constant thoughts and memories of a specific situation
Feelings of guilt
Feelings of sadness
Feeling stuck like I couldn’t change anything
Withdrawing from others
Thinking I had to figure everything out on my own
Not participating in enjoyable activities
Finding it difficult to relax
I am sure there are more signs others could add to this list. This is not exhaustive. But that was my experience at the time.
Thanks to that experience with my supervisor (and the therapy that followed that meeting) I have since learned how to tell I’m burning out and overworked, and when I need to takes extra steps to care for myself.
I now realize that I am not alone in some of the feelings I was having (stress, frustration, feeling stuck, sadness). And I take extra care to surround myself with supportive people in our field and outside our field that I can be honest with and that will be honest with me and hold me accountable to care for myself, go easy on myself, and have empathy for myself when I feel this way.
There are several things that I do to prevent and/or manage feelings of stress and burnout:
Be honest about the stress that sometimes comes with our profession and the client content we witness everyday
My faith, prayer and spiritual support from my relationship with God;
A strong social support system, friends, family, my husband;
Seeking outside of the agency supervision or consultation;
Participating in my own therapy;
Making time to unwind and de-compress from work;
Writing and blogging;
Reading about successful, healthy businesses and their practices and therapists;
Finding the right time to be emotional and allowing the feelings I had to be there;
Focusing on what is best for my clients;
Maintaining my ethics and professionalism even when things felt fuzzy or grey;
Recognizing what I do and do not have control over; and,
Knowing when it was time to take a break
Taking responsibility for what is mine, and not taking responsibility for other people’s choices.
Reading about self-care
Trying new ways to relax
Taking time off when needed
Setting short and long term goals (for career and other areas of my life)
Art (making it and enjoying other’s art).
I am also thankful for the many things I learn about myself through this job.
Have a variety of clients to vary my day
Being genuine with others
Listening to the people I trust the most when they tell me to slow down (this is sometimes hard to do)
How can you support a colleague who may be going through a difficult time or dealing with burnout?
Be honest (with love) about your concerns.
Offer support and referrals if necessary.
Invite them to something fun outside of work (dinner, girls weekend, lunch, or even out for coffee)
Send an encouraging note, email or Facebook post.
Can you think of other ways you can support a struggling colleague?
Let’s share in the comments below section and support each other
I also offer individual and group supervision for play therapists and those seeking licensure as a professional counselor and a FREE Play Therapist Consultation Group for Licensed Mental Health Practitioners who are advanced play therapists. If you are not already in supervision please contact me to make an appointment and have supervision as part of your self-care plan