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?
- Less sleep
- 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
- Crying easily
- Feeling isolated
- 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 available.
- Be honest (with love) about your concerns.
- Be empathetic
- 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
If you are a therapist struggling with your work and would like support please visit the Self Care for Therapist Network for information and articles.
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