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Burnout: Consider This Before You Quit

Self-assessment when confronting career burnout (psych careers and others)

One of psychology’s principle dictums is that a therapist or counselor can only take their clients as far as their own personal level of functional and maturational development. Many psychological theorists and educators add that you, as a person, are one of the most important instruments when counseling and guiding others.

Not only do therapists need to have mastered a complex set of skills that include a wide range of psychological and cultural competencies, they must also have accurate self-appraisal, effective self-monitoring and self-correction, and a significant comfort level with their expertise area. Sometimes sufficient continuing education in these areas is lacking or only takes place at a conference one time a year, which can impact therapeutic effectiveness, boundaries, and leave therapists more vulnerable to compassion fatigue.

In addition, psychology practitioners in clinical settings can suffer from isolation. With strict prohibitions against dual relationships, the therapist often works in a room providing endless attention to a series of one-way relationships. The unique strain of opening-up empathically to another’s trauma and pain without reciprocal emotional sharing tends to rub against the instinctual drive for mutuality and equality and can leave therapists emotionally exhausted and burned out—which in turn, hampers the therapeutic process.

The net result is that counselors and therapists face increasing burnout rates in record numbers.

For anyone out there facing burnout (which can apply to any career field), it can help to pause and take a self-assessment that looks at the totality of your life. For instance, are there any other areas of life and/or deeper hidden dreams that you have neglected?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross suggested that recognizing our mortality can help reveal our purpose when she wrote, “It is the denial of death that is partially responsible for people living empty, purposeless lives; for when you live as if you'll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know that you must do.” Perhaps that is why Victor Hugo said, “It is nothing to die, it is frightening not to live.” Wayne Dyer warns people not to die “with music still in their heart.”

Sometimes healing professionals (along with people in other career fields) expect to receive meaning and purpose wholly from their career, which creates the added fear of losing one’s fulfillment when burnout hits. Often, there is an initial paralysis that can set in because the person doesn’t know what else to do when confronted with the initial pangs of burnout. To combat the inertia, it’s imperative to step back and getter a better, more realistic view.

Looking at other areas of your life can be very revealing as you uncover neglected parts. Sometimes, redirecting your focus into multiple parts of life can enhance balance while squelching burnout (and allowing you to keep your job!).

Movies are filled with romantic runaway notions of ditching everything in your current life and starting over with something new, yet often a simple re-balancing of energy will do the trick. Plus, sometimes starting over can be an impulsive desperate act—and still leaves the person unbalanced and feeling unfulfilled once the dust has settled. Then they risk suffering from the added burden of regret and forever second-guessing their decision-making process (leading to higher risk of anxiety, depression, and career instability).

If that’s not all, burning the proverbial bridge of one’s current trajectory also has a subtle way of distracting a person from some of the hidden areas and dreams that are calling (or screaming) to be acknowledged.

So, before you quit, consider doing a self-assessment on the following areas of your life.

First, how is your downtime? When was the last time you took a vacation? Do you allow yourself time every day to completely unplug when you get off work? Do you have at least one full day of rest each week?

Next, how are the relationships in your life? Do you have meaningful and supportive relationships that feed the essential need of belonging? Do you have friendships that sate the different needs of conversation, laughter, exploration, assistance, sharing in hobbies, etc. Not everyone can fill each need, so take an inventory of the relationships in your life that fill your needs and note any that aren’t met.

Do you have close personal relationships that fill your intimate needs, where intimacy translates into “into me see” and allows for deeper soul-filled connection that is based on trust?

Do you have enough physical contact, where you get hugs from loved ones and satisfying sexual and/or intimate contact if in a committed partnership?

Are you getting outside each day? While the sun’s UVB rays are touted to help catalyze the skin’s production of vitamin-D, there are numerous other benefits to stepping onto the soil and experiencing nature. Living cooped up in buildings with artificial light, filtered air and surrounded by electronics can impact our natural biorhythms. Getting a daily dose of nature with periods of time completely unplugged helps restore it. Perhaps this is why so many are intuitively drawn to nature when they go on vacation: whether to camp, visit the beach, ski or hike a mountain, golf, and even sightsee and window-shop in the outdoors.

A lot can be written about diet and exercise and I suspect you know already the importance of this topic. Still, take an honest self-assessment in these areas as well. In addition, get your health checked and make sure your hormones and other systems are healthy. It also helps to look at the environment and make sure you are not suffering from toxic and allergic effects from potential exposure to surrounding contaminants. How is your water? Is radon or carbon monoxide detectible in your home? How about lead? What is the mercury level in your system from eating fish and other heavy metal exposures? All of these things can create deleterious effects on your body and create depressive and bipolar symptoms, among other problems.

This list can go on to include spirituality, creativity, art, where you reside, adventure, and other things your soul desires and your body needs. Simply explore and write down a list of all the areas that reveal themselves along with the items previously mentioned and then rate your satisfaction level in each the different areas. Then give yourself three months of re-balancing your focus by adding your attention to meet any deficit areas you discovered. After three months, re-evaluate and score your satisfaction level. Note how your burnout level has changed.

Please feel free to share your comments with your experience as you attempt this and what you’ve learned. If you’ve felt a positive shift then I recommend you commit to a quarterly review to help sustain and improve the benefits of total balance.