Becoming Less Crispy
The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.
Such a simple quote with so much power and insight behind it. Powerful enough to have found its way to a wall in my home and insightful enough to give me pause a few times a year to determine what the “why” is within my life.
Today is one of those days that I pause and think about my why. Because today is my birthday. It's a day that I refuse to work (thankfully this blog can be auto-posted!). And, I refuse to be an adult with responsibilities. So, I will take a pause from anything stressful and enjoy relaxing by the water. I choose to spend. the day surrounded by people I love, who love me in return - no matter how many quirks I have, no many how many times I fall down, no matter how stubborn I am. This year is completely different than what I expected personally and professionally. But, taking this time for myself to be present in the moment, relaxed and (non-obnoxiously) egocentric is important.
Thinking about my "why."
Today, I am taking the time to ponder the second half of Mark Twain's quote. But, in order to do that I need to have an open space to explore, think, and dare I say it? Dream... As a therapist, the past five months have been insane, surreal, and sometimes baffling. Transitioning to offering online therapy was not difficult for me since a large majority of my work was already being done in the virtual world. However, the content of the sessions, the anxiety, and despair, coupled with the lack of projective answers resulted in a sense of uneasiness that weighed heavily on me. When I logged off, things felt different and bleaker than they did before the world was turned upside down by the Coronavirus.
Add in a major curveball in my family, some health issues, and a pending career shift and yep, you guessed it... I was feeling crispy. Crispy is my tern to depict being almost burned out. I was burnt out enough to skip any blog writing in July despite my commitment to weekly posts. Crispy enough to actually start enjoying my bubble of Instacart, Doordash, and curbside pick up. Crispy enough to dive into work without diving into increased healthy coping skills.
And definitely crispy enough to take a three-week‘ change of scenery’ adventure to spend time with the people I love the most - all of which do not live in my current state of residence.
What does it look like to experience burnout as a clinician?
Great question! According to Psychology Today, You may have an inkling you're burned out when you:
- drag yourself into work most days
- find yourself repeating the same interpretations over and over
- give advice as a shortcut rather than helping clients learn and grow
- begin sessions late and/or end early
- doze off or space out during sessions
- experience a noticeable decline in empathy
- do things that would make your former ethics professor cringe
- push your theory, technique or agenda rather than listening and adjusting
- feel relieved when clients cancel
- haven't read anything psychology-related for a while
- self disclose in ways that don't help the client
- fantasize about that high school job at the food court in the mall where you were appreciated, got tips, and left work at work (wait - they do not mention selling drinks on a beach in Fiji so I may be safe after all!!!)
Anything on the list that jumps out at you? See yourself in that list anywhere? As clinicians, we tend to minimize our feelings of being overwhelmed, crispy, stressed, or even burned out. We are excellent at teaching others how to avoid the pitfalls and tend to ignore the symptoms when they present in us.
If I can just catch up. If I can just get through this week. If I can just get a weekend to “veg” then I will be ok.
Functioning does not mean you're not experiencing burnout
Are you ok? Absolutely - we rock the ability to compartmentalize and function. Can we keep it up forever? Absolutely not. Sorry to shatter your perception of control over your crispiness. But at the end of the day, we need to accept that we are human and susceptible to the level of burnout like everyone else.
No shame, no sense of failure, and definitely no judgment here.
How I fought Burnout as an Online Therapist
After one week away and despite doing some work while out of town (yes, I know - work in progress, never said I was done growing!!) my sleep has improved, my caffeine intake has decreased and I have never laughed so much in years. Part of that is due to being with people that I have known for 30+ years. Part of that is accepting that no matter how stubborn I am, driven I can be or independent I can act - everyone needs a break. Especially in the world we live in right now.
Then what? How do we, as therapists, recover, heal and grow despite diving back into the muck with clients?
That, my peer, is a blog for next week! Next week we will discuss how to recover from burnout while not moving to Fiji and how finding that space will help you find your “why” for the reason you were born. Mark Twain’s quote is not as powerful if you only focus on the first half of it. The second half is where we learn to THRIVE.
To learn more about therapist burnout subscribe to my blog and read part 2 of this series!
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As I have stated previously, being known for who you uniquely are at the core is a freeing experience. One that will take bravery and vulnerability, but one that can be achieved.
Thank you for spending a smart part of my birthday with me!
Always remember to take care of you. You are worth it!
Begin online therapy for burnout with Melissa Russiano:
I want to help you feel like the best version of yourself, as a person and therapist. I offer therapy for helping professionals, therapy for therapists, and therapy for busy professionals. therapy for burnout and compassion fatigue, and therapy for imposter syndrome. I help clients in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Ohio. Please contact me today and let’s get started!
If you want to find out more before you schedule a consultation or join a group, then you can learn about me as an online therapist, check out my FAQs, or continue reading Mondays with Melissa, my mental health blog.