Taking the Plunge
Braff, Elaine, Family Therapy Networker
I'M BURNED OUT," CONFESSES JANE, a 53-year-old family therapist who has been in practice for 17 years. "It's not that I feel I have nothing to give; I just want to express my creativity in some new way. But I'm afraid changing careers or starting over will put me on the outside again trying to get in I'd be a nobody again. Besides, I'm hooked on making a good living, and I'm afraid of losing that. Yet I don't want to sit down at 70 years old and realize I've been doing the same thing for 30 years and whining about it for the last 20."
Jane is giving voice to thoughts that increasing numbers of therapists across the country are having as they ponder their future in a profession filled with uncertainties. As a consultant working with therapists reassessing their career options, I regularly encounter clinicians struggling with the dissatisfactions in their professional lives. Most eventually decide that they want to continue being therapists and find a new growing edge or a more effective way to market themselves. But there are others who, for a variety of reasons, are deciding to leave the profession entirely.
Initially, for many of them, the idea of starting a new career is literally unthinkable. They cannot imagine a. work life outside the familiar routines of their office practice. To help them squarely face their options, I encourage them to look beyond the narrow range of possibilities they have previously considered before coming into my office. Often I tell them about the major career change I went through myself 11 years ago.
At the time, I was going through a divorce from an 18-year-marriage and facing the prospect of losing the comfortable lifestyle of a dual-income family. On my own, with two children to support, I not only needed to make more money, but felt that the therapist role had become confining to me. The sameness of my office routine was sapping my energy. But while I wanted freedom and a new challenge, I was terrified by the prospect of leaving the safe confines of my office and giving up my identity as a therapist.
For a long time I had been fascinated with the corporate world. Even while I was practicing therapy, I studied sales techniques and worked with businesses on a volunteer basis, often finding the application of clinical skills brought immediate results. Taken with the psychology of business success. I persuaded Steve, a stockbroker friend of mine who was having trouble making sales calls, to allow me to work with him. With no consulting track record, I asked for no fee, just the opportunity to prove what I could help him accomplish.
At that point Steve was at the lowest point in his career and contemplating quitting. Although he held an M.B.A. and a Master's Degree in economics, he felt overwhelmed by his job and wasn't able to transfer his academic knowledge into business success.
I began by doing an in-depth interview in which I helped Steve see what obstacles were stopping him from producing the results he wanted. I helped him write a business plan that included short-term and long-term goals, and emphasized the importance of his making an unwavering commitment to follow the plan. For four months, we scheduled weekly 45 minute coaching sessions that focused on Steve's developing sales skills, more effective work habits, and a positive attitude toward his job. During daily phone conversations, we reviewed that day's goals and actions steps, discussing what worked and what didn't work from the prior day's efforts. When Steve realized that I was committed to him and that I wouldn't abandon him if he didn't do well, he felt he had a partner he could rely on. He began to see what it took to close the sales that had eluded him before boldness, persistence and timely follow through. Within a few weeks of beginning our work, he closed a $60,000 sale and from then on maintained this level of production.
In appreciation for our work together, Steve wound up referring 12 paying consulting clients to me. …