Of course you are tired: Why Behavioral Health Professionals Burn Out

It probably doesn't matter what type of professional helping you've been doing.  No matter your setting, you are at some level of burnout.  My story goes something like this:

  • I started over-over working in graduate school when I recall all the reading and assignments they threw at you (the lie was that we were reading all of this material).  I suspect I started running on overdrive at 18 when I was on my own and had to face keeping a roof over my head and putting myself through undergraduate and graduate school.
  • To the best of my memory it is clear I really started to 'overwork' or 'work way too fast' when I took on a care manager job in the behavioral health insurance industry in the late 1990's.  No, in fact, I'm lying: I felt the 'quickening' and pressure in the job prior to that as an EAP manager.  I was constantly being charged to more closely track activities and I had to lay off workers.
  • This over-doing continued when I became bored, yes, with the care manager's role and signed on for a proposal writing role in the same company.  I now know the boredom was probably the result of withdrawal from the adrenalin addiction I'd suffered from the previous job.  I was in over my head.  That job didn't last long!
  • Then I jumped from the frying pan into the fire in my 40's by running my own coaching and matchmaking business.  And while I struggled financially to scale this business that was my 'baby', I backed up my business' financial weakness by doing therapy work.  I was probably working 80 hour weeks at this time and it wasn't taking a physical and/or mental toll...yet.
  • I finally came to terms with the fact my 'baby' wasn't feeding me.  This was also in the time of the Great Recession.  In addition, the costs of overwork were starting to come to fruition: for the first time in my life I had to go on medications beyond allergies for my stress-related issues.
  • So I closed my 'baby business' and went back to doing therapy full time. This went on for the past 3-4 years until I became frustrated with my earnings ceiling, which were severely reduced because of the costs of overhead for working in a group practice.
  • To try and solve the above, I took a full time job again in the insurance industry.  I would be there now however I was poorly trained and otherwise poorly treated, so I resigned.
  • Perhaps my story is similar to yours.  Especially if you've been in independent practice for decades and/or ran a business at some point.  

When I started my own unofficial research on psychotherapist burnout I noted that physician burnout dominated the pages. Figures. Why is it that my life and it's concerns are so often not seen?  And when I read the description for the only training for burned out therapists I could find the instructor said our burnout was called 'immaturity', blaming our burnout not at least partly on the stressful environments we usually work in. Therefore, therapist burnout 'is our fault'.

As a social worker, it is dyed in my wool that the person is only part of the equation.  How about the environment?  When the kid acts out who do we diagnose?  The kid.  We don't look at his/her environment and diagnose that do we?

Same for burnout.

I believe you can be burned out and not suffering from lack of empathy or compassion.  Most being written about health care providers say you have to have that to meet criteria.

I CALL B.S.!!!

So expect me to have lots more to share on this topic!