The term ‘burnout’ is probably one you’re all too familiar with, especially in the mental health industry. It can be intensely draining, and a huge strain on your business operations, which isn’t ideal. Caused by excessive stress, burnout can leave you feeling unproductive, overwhelmed, overly negative, and unmotivated. Not only this, but burnout can also be difficult to shake off, and can affect therapists’ mental fitness, which is of utmost importance. As a private counselor, you need to be able to connect with clients and take on board their struggles and challenges objectively, in order to develop productive plans to help them progress. Sometimes it can be very easy physically and mentally to do so, and while we aim to leave our work problems at work, this can look very different for those in the mental health field. If you think you’re suffering from burnout, or you’re unsure what this may look like; we’re here to help!
What is burnout and what are its symptoms?
Defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a syndrome caused by long-term or chronic stress. It is usually characterized by three aspects, including feelings of fatigue and exhaustion, increased mental disengagement or negative feelings about the job, and reduced productivity and professional efficacy. Burnout is a common issue that almost everyone faces at least a few times in their life and can look very different for everyone. It’s important that you’re aware of the symptoms and signs, so you can identify whether you’re suffering from burnout and whether action is needed to prevent it from worsening.
Category 1 - Exhaustion: Exhaustion or depletion can present very differently from person to person. For example, you may be suffering from a lack of motivation in completing everyday tasks. Quite simply, you’re tired, worn out, and fatigued from going into work and discussing client problems, and there’s nothing wrong with that every once in a while. In fact, you may be feeling particularly hopeless, and in severe cases, depressed. Some people feel this loss of energy so heavily, that they have trouble concentrating on simple tasks, and may have difficulties remembering information. Becoming irritated or cynical is also very common, in addition to the physical manifestation of symptoms. This can include a change in appetite, insomnia, and headaches, which are also particularly troubling to deal with.
Category 2 - Negativity: In addition to feeling exhausted, you may also be feeling cynical or negative when thinking about your life and work. Seeing clients lacks the same enjoyment that it used to provide you, and there is an obvious loss of job satisfaction. In some cases, the idea of meeting with a client and conducting a session can actually bring you dread. There’s a prominent sense of hopelessness, with an obvious negative attitude, and you may present a critical approach to all work required from you. You might also feel impatient with your workload, and general everyday tasks. This apathy may leak into other areas of your life, which can be concerning, especially if you begin to feel isolated from others and those you care about.
Category 3 - Lack of productivity: As the final category, burnout often presents ineffectiveness when it comes to your workload. Feeling tired and cynical in regards to your job can affect your performance, and prevent you from reaching your full potential. You may not be receiving the same results as you usually do, and you may miss important deadlines. Additionally, you may also miss work goals, and find yourself habitually complaining about all the things you have to do; trivial or otherwise. If not careful, this could lead to decreased client satisfaction, and in the worst case scenario, lost clients. Being unable to provide clients with the highest level of care can result in massive blows to your reputation, which you may never be able to recover from. Thus, it’s important for private practitioners to prioritize selfcare, in order to prevent this from happening.
Dealing with burnout as a private counselor
Now that you’re aware of all the signs of burnout, you may be sitting here thinking, ‘this sounds like me!’. If this is the case, it’s important that you recognize how to overcome these barriers, in order to provide your clients with the highest quality of care. Not only this, but you also want to be able to come into work feeling fulfilled and revitalized by the tasks you achieve and the goals you accomplish.
Identify the warning signs of burnout
As listed and described above, it’s important that you’re able to identify the warning signs of burnout, and that you can acknowledge what it looks like before it sets in. This way, you can monitor your health appropriately and implement the right preventative measures to avoid the detachment and depersonalization that is associated with burnout. It’s always helpful to know the signs and symptoms because you can also help those around you who may be going through the same thing. In case you need a refresher, typical warnings signs include:
Emotional and physical depletion: You’re likely to feel very drained, fatigued, and worn out; both mentally and physically. You may have headaches, body aches, and feel unproductive.
Detachment: You may feel yourself becoming less engaged and connected with your clients, which can be very troubling. Spending time counting down the minutes until your workday ends is not a way to live your life.
Difficulty in recharging: No matter how much sleep you get each night, and however many breaks you take, you may still find yourself being unable to access the same energy you had before.
Do not take your work at home
As a general rule of thumb in the business world, it’s advised that you should never take your work home. We understand that this can be particularly difficult in the mental health industry, especially when the workload is entirely mental. With troubling cases, you may feel yourself thinking about your conversations with clients long after they’ve occurred. While empathetic, this is a big no-no, because you deserve time off too! Try to distract yourself, and acknowledge that you are a person too, who has their own problems to deal with. Conversely, only every once in a while should you consider bringing paperwork home to finish. Don’t make this a habit, as you need your downtime.
Take help from a mentor
It’s always okay to ask for help, and there’s no shame in it! Reaching out to those in your professional network can help you learn from their experiences, and chances are, they’ve also likely encountered bouts of psychologist burnout every now and then. They can provide essential guidance to help you get through this period, and sometimes talking things through can honestly take a large weight off your chest. Mental health professionals can often feel isolated, so it’s important that you have others you can go to for support.
Manage your schedule efficiently
You may be surprised to learn that sometimes burnout can often be a result of a bad schedule. Make sure that you leave room for breaks, including lunch with a healthy and rewarding meal. If you have demanding clients that are scheduled back to back, you need to also ensure that you’re providing space apart for you to be able to decompress.
Practice self-care regularly
Self-care, a term you’ve probably heard often thrown around, ensures that at the end of the day, you’re looking after yourself. While you’re dedicating yourself to others, it’s important that you also set aside time for yourself. Self-care looks a little different for everyone, but this may mean taking time off on a short vacation or taking up a hobby to have some time for a break.
Use practice management software to manage work efficiently
Practice management software is one of the easiest ways to prevent professional burnout in counseling, as automated tasks mean you don’t have to lift a finger. You can manage all your client information, notes, documents, payments, emails, etc. from one place! It alleviates so much of the stress associated with mental health care, including HIPAA violations, and can leave you feeling refreshed when it comes to working.
Burnout is never easy, yet it is something almost all private mental health counselors deal with. Hopefully, this information has helped consolidate your understanding when it comes to what burnout looks like, and how to deal with it. You can eliminate those feelings of exhaustion and negativity, and prevent any lack of productivity to avoid missing important goals. With the right preventative measures and techniques, as outlined above, you can take a break successfully, and return to work feeling refreshed and revitalized. Feeling rewarded and fulfilled by the work you do is of utmost importance, as it means you can bring the best version of yourself to meet with clients, and your enjoyment will translate into the sessions you conduct. Burnout is never easy, but have confidence in the fact that you understand what it is, how it manifests, and that you’re now acquainted with ways to overcome it.