When I finished graduate school, I tossed my commencement cap into the ring of the real world and packed my hopes and dreams inside filing cabinets and briefcases. I was ready, I was steady, and I was set on making a difference.
Then it happened…..
Something different. Something empty. Something that felt like I’d jumped aboard a runaway bus and waved a tearful goodbye as the person I thought I was stood outside on the curb.
I was on edge. I was uninspired. I was questioning whether I should have become a florist like I’d considered. At least then, I’d stop and smell the roses.
Maybe you’ve been there as well; it’s all too common and not limited to clinicians. Eavesdrop inside any restaurant or coffee shop and it becomes clear: There’s nothing novel about disliking your job.
Of course, this aversion can exist for many reasons: A difficult boss, challenging clients, long hours, high standards, complicated coworkers, office politics.
But one of the most overlooked reasons has to do with ourselves. When we start doing things outside of our values, our desires, our priorities, we resist until that resistance evolves into indifference and, eventually, disfavor.
It comes down to a foundational understanding of the principles of personhood: We need to do something that feels meaningful to us. If we don’t, our boredom becomes a giant elephant in the room. One that’s sitting in the corner, yawning.
But I’m too young to be burnt out…..
Maybe that’s what you’re thinking. Yet the truth is that burnout can affect any therapist, from the newly licensed to “back in my day, we had to write our case notes on a typewriter.” This is because burnout isn’t about how much time you’ve spent doing something – it’s about whether or not it aligns with your sense of self.
Sometimes, young therapists even set themselves up unknowingly. They take jobs in organizations that don’t speak to them. They work for someone with different goals. They commit themselves to large caseloads and late nights because they think they must pay their dues.
But they disconnect in the process.
So, how do you fix all this? How do you stay connected to the authentic self in a job that makes you moan and groan and throw your phone when the alarm goes off each morning?
Start by asking one question: If I could do anything I wanted to do today, what would it be?
Your answer provides an important clue – take it and apply it to your career the best way you can. For example, if you answered the above question with “spend time in nature”, consider merging nature with your practice. If you love animals, explore animal-assisted therapy. If you’re passionate about social justice, find clients in marginalized communities.
Then look for areas you haven’t mastered yet – because there is an area you haven’t mastered yet. The field of mental health is always changing and that means it’s always teaching, giving you the opportunity to never stop learning.
If you’re working for an agency that’s contributing to the burnout, consider starting your own practice. Sure, there’s probably a million reasons why you shouldn’t, but excuses are like gray hairs – you’ll always find one if you look hard enough. So, don’t look! Instead, abandon fear in favor of a leap of faith.
When you realign your aspirations, focus on your values, and adapt in a way that speaks to your needs, the inspiration falls into place. That elephant in the room? It gets up and then it’s gone. It’s not your burden, any longer.
Why is this so vital? Because feeling connected widens your window of tolerance and gives you the ability to access your regulatory system and prefrontal cortex. It arms you with patience during conflict and change. And, when burnout comes knocking, it slams the door shut.
Of course, it also makes you a more effective healer – a highly important piece. Your clients need you to feel alive…….and you need it, too.
By: Lisa Dion