Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

GETTING UNSTUCK; Learning to Heal the Healer: Steps for Helping Therapists Avoid Burnout

Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

GETTING UNSTUCK; Learning to Heal the Healer: Steps for Helping Therapists Avoid Burnout

Article excerpt

Q:  I've been a therapist at a community mental health center for six years and I feel burned out--tired, unmotivated, questioning my ability to effect change. What should I do?

A: Before therapists can get control of burnout, they must get control of their attitudes about self-care and self-worth. How many therapists take time to take stock of how well their personal lives are going? Too often, they live life in fast forward, working long hours and nights to accommodate clients' needs, while ignoring their own. Let's face it, therapists dispense advice to clients about making time for themselves that they themselves don't take. So here are some tips on what therapists can do to treat themselves better and avoid or overcome burnout.

Self-Assessment. Take a personal inventory of your risk for burnout. Do you: 1) see multiple clients without taking a break (not even a bathroom break); 2) feel inadequately trained or like you stay with the same old stuff when it doesn't work; 3) feel isolated; 4) have unrealistic expectations; and 5) put your clients' needs before your own? And the most important self-assessment question of all, are you happy? If the answer is no, it's time to determine a course of action by following some of the steps below.

Prepare a Mission Statement. Many therapists who experience burnout feel as if they've lost their way and that nothing they do is good enough. Developing a mission statement that encapsulates the passion and conviction that led you into therapy to begin with can help you rediscover the personal meaning in your work And knowing why you do what you do is a great boost to self-appreciation, self-acknowledgment and self-validation.

For example, after lots of thought about my passion and conviction, I wrote that my mission is: "to promote social justice through consciousness-raising of such issues as race, class, gender, sexual and orientation. Toward this end, I strive to empower clients to be self-knowledgeable, self-accepting and self-loving, so that they can make a claim for themselves in relationships."

Commit to Self-Care. Recognize the sacredness of taking care of you. Choose something positive that works for you. Exercise; do mental exercise, such as self-reflection and meditation; have a cup of really good coffee; sit down to breakfast; pay yourself compliments or listen to your favorite music. Center yourself before taking on the challenges of the day. One of the most successful women in America, Oprah Winfrey, doesn't leave home without feeding her spirit. She watches the sunrise with a cup of her favorite coffee as she contemplates her day. I listen to gospel music as I walk for an hour on my treadmill.

Don't stay in bed hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock. Get up and take charge of your life. Ask yourself what you would do if you were in love with the most wonderful person in the world--you--and then do it.

Shoulds cause us to lose sight of our own needs. I don't have an open-door policy at work, although some colleagues think they should. Keeping my door closed lets me focus on my own priorities and give my undivided attention to those I schedule appointments with. The closed door also reminds me of the importance of my own needs.

Another aspect of self-care is quiet time. …

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