Anyone in the mental health field will tell you how important self-care is, but you never fully understand until you experience the first signs of burnout. What is burnout? One definition explains it as an imbalance between the psychological resources of an individual and the demands being made on those resources. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is classified as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, with the following three symptoms listed: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feel negative towards one’s career, and reduced professional productivity. It can be difficult for individuals to identify burnout due to perceived stigma. Some may perceive acknowledging an experience of burnout as weakness. Common signs for a variety of professions include: a feeling of dragging self into work most days, coming to work late, leaving early, and spacing out at work. More specifically, common signs of burnout in the mental health field include: finding yourself repeating the same interpretations, providing clients with advice as a shortcut rather than assisting clients to learn and grow, starting sessions late and/or ending early, spacing out/ dozing off during session, experiencing a noticeable decline in empathy, pushing your theory, technique or agenda rather than listening and adjusting, feeling relieved when clients cancel, and self-disclosure in ways that do not help the client. Burnout intensity varies from the temporary career dissatisfaction to complete meltdowns and inability to effectively and safely practice. Additionally, symptoms range as well from the mildest of empathetic lapses and grouchiness to resentment or snapping at clients to the more severe indulgent self-disclosure to complete disregard for professional boundaries and ethics.
So, what can you do to reduce the rates of burnout? Simply put take time for and care of yourself. Having creative outlets or hobbies is an excellent way to reduce stress. Another simple way to reduce the likelihood of burnout is being able to identify what you need from your work, and increasing self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is having the belief in your own ability to accomplish (and exercise control over) personally meaningful goals and tasks. According to Bandura, people who have a stronger level of perceived self-efficacy experience less stress in challenging situations, and situations, in turn, become less stressful when people believe they can cope. If you are already experiencing some of these symptoms, Intrust Healthcare can assist in the reduction of psychological distress associated with burnout. Intrust provides counseling services, which can assist an individual in learning ways to cope. Additionally, counseling provides an outlet to process feelings associated with burnout and can provide a safe space to figure out career concerns and needs. Furthermore, working with an Intrust case manager can provide needed referrals and assistance in obtaining community resources.
One might ask what is a simple step you can take to help prevent burnout? That’s an easy one… don’t just work somewhere doing what you love, work somewhere that provides you support to do what you love. If you are in the mental health field especially, there is something to be said for “family environment” companies and Intrust Healthcare is one of those companies. Staff members from all departments rally around each other providing needed support in all facets of life. Intrust embodies quality over quantity, which allows staff members to feel comfortable asking for help when needed, whether that’s a lighter caseload or additional supervision and/or guidance for those tough cases. The ability to have support without judgment prevents burnout. If you think about it, Intrust’s healthy work environment actually means the therapists and case managers have potentially lowered rates of burnout, which in turn may lead to better availability of individual resources and empathy for clients.
Sarah Hunter, M.Ed., LPA
Intrust Therapist since 2018