Burn-out Is Too Common In Mental Health Clinicians

Author: URMND Contributor Gary Taylor, MSW

I wake up feeling as if I never even closed my eyes for several hours. I gently place my daughter to the middle of the bed. I am still adjusting to a one year old who sleeps in her crib until about 2am and then wants to sleep and cuddle up underneath her mother and father every night.

As I sit on the edge of the bed, I put my head down and pray. I take a deep breath and get up as I am already late for work. The sad thing is that I don’t even rush. I’ve been drinking more coffee lately, I only average 2 cups a day but now I’m creeping on 3. I walk into the kitchen to start my water and prepare my pour over. My mind is still stumbling as I force myself to push with every step. I take a shower, barely comb my beard and put an outfit together that at least gets the job done. My appearance doesn’t matter, I’m just trying to get to work.

I kiss my daughter and wife goodbye, say my I love yous as I head out the door, get in the car, and start my drive. At this point and time I’m still late, and my mind spaces out. The radio is on but I don’t hear it. I’m in my own mind, but it’s silent.

I’m tired.

The type of tired where you want to sleep but your mind and body won’t allow you to. The type of tired we call exhaustion, but you still keep pushing because bills have to be paid. The type of tired you have to push through because the agency is short-staffed and clients still have to be seen. As I take my sip of coffee, it’s weak. I put entirely too much water and not enough coffee. I’m irritated. I reflect on yesterday evening and how busy the day was.

“Man I hope it’s chill today,” I think to myself.

I reflect on how I came home with my mind in a fog, never able to appropriately decompress. My mind switches back to what will today bring and how my coffee is trash. It’s almost as if I am weighted down and continuing sink. I sit in the office staring blankly at the wall, my mood flat, waiting for phone calls or to meet with client.

*Phone rings*

There is a client in crisis they want to speak to a therapist. Instantly it all fades away, I perk up, turn the lights on and get ready to fulfill my purpose in life which is to serve and help others. The day goes on.

Repeat.

What I just described to you is burnout. We as mental health professionals, go through it in cycles. It is important that we are able to identify the symptoms of burnout as they come in many forms and fashions. It shows not just through our professional career, but also in our personal lives.

Personally, I become sluggish and my sleep is fragmented. My diet is poor, my coffee intake increases and water intake decreases. I become more irritable, I get headaches. I am simply exhausted.

It takes a lot to shut me down. I am always practicing social work 24/7, whether it be my professional career or community work. My wife has helped me shut down my work brain to help with burn out. The tools she has given me along with my own self-care practices, have allowed me to properly re-fuel after burn out.

I felt those symptoms late in September and immediately took a week and a half off in the middle of October. It helped a lot, and you know what I did that week?

Absolutely nothing.

Depending on your hobbies, or self-care activities you have to do what works for you personally. I know what helps me recuperate and things that do not. Those things include family time with my daughter and wife, prayer, working on my car, exercising, reading, playing basketball or watching basketball. Recently, I found photography helps me get back into the swing of things.

It is up to us as clinicians to make sure we are at our best to help those we serve. If not then it becomes detrimental to the people we serve.

Be mindful that you are practicing proper self-care techniques to prevent burn-out. If you are burnt-out, consider what factors that led up to the burn-out and how you can change it. Identify your supports, and self-care practices in order to recuperate.

After all what is a change agent, who can’t make a change?


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