Counsellor burnout in the pandemic. Whether you’re super busy because you’re overwhelmed with the number of clients coming forward for help, or bored because your case numbers have dropped, there’s a possibility that you may be suffering from burn out.
So how can you tell, and what can you do about it?
Symptoms of burnout
There are three main symptoms of burnout:
- Loss of empathy, caring and compassion
- Emotional exhaustion
- Decreased sense of accomplishment
If you’re beginning to experience burnout, you may find yourself:
- Losing interest in clients or friends and family
- Not taking regular breaks
- Having difficulty in concentrating
- Experiencing physical symptoms such as sleeplessness or headaches
- Feeling anxious or depressed
Causes of Burnout
Ever found yourself:
- Saying “yes” to taking on a client even though you know you can’t really fit them in?
- Sitting with someone relating trauma and wanting to cry yourself?
- Finding yourself reacting to what a client has told you, but having to hold it in until supervision which is nearly a month away?
- Wondering what decision to take in the moment as a client presents a problem?
- With lots of paperwork to complete and no time to do it?
- Asking if your work is making any difference, especially if a client has a relapse?
All these factors can contribute to burnout.
They can be summed up as being caused by your dedication to help people, the burden of working on your own, and the demanding nature of therapeutic work.
Often what underlies burnout is lack of control. This can be true both if you’re overwhelmed with work and if you simply don’t have enough work (“bore out”).
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been less control for people. For example, you’re unable to choose how often you can go out and who you can see. You may be finding there is no escape from demands of home life such as small children, or the break that commuting can bring to work.
If you’d like to see a checklist on identifying burnout, consult this article
Read on for practical ways to tackle counsellor burnout
Three Ways to Tackle Therapist Burnout
Forget perfectionism and set a reasonable expectation about what you can do and how many people you can help. Remember:
- It’s unrealistic to expect positive outcomes with every client
- You don’t have to be the best therapist in order to help people
- Sometimes your clients won’t like you and that’s part of the work
- Given how many people never come for therapy, your client just turning up is a win
- Your value does not lie in whether you’re a successful therapist or popular with your clients
Take small steps to setting boundaries for yourself so that you’re making your world more supportive. For example:
- Create a division between work and home life, even if you are working from home. Various ideas that counsellors use to create that separation were discussed in this video – The biggest mistake in self-care
- Ensure you are getting your social needs met outside your client work. Create meaningful connections with friends and family instead. Choose people who are kind, who like to grow, who are positive and mentally healthy. Join Josephine’s Therapy Growth Group for peer group support.
- Take time to enjoy fresh air, exercise and time in green spaces, dance in the kitchen or join an online class
- Change your media consumption away from material that drags you down and gives you perfectionist expectations. Choose podcasts, blogs and books that build you up.
Remember not to give yourself any ‘shoulds’ in self-care, see this article for more
Reconnect with your power. Think about what you can control in your life:
- Where do you have full control? What’s within your realm of expertise? Ideas include what you wear, what you eat, whether you exercise, what you choose to read or watch
- What can you influence? Perhaps you can’t choose dinner because someone else cooks it, but perhaps you could make requests
- What’s outside of your control? And is there anything within your control or influence that you could bring to bear on it? You cannot control the course of the pandemic, but it can help to think that the sacrifices you are making are for the greater good. For example, you’ll stick to lockdown rules in order to protect the health service or ensure that children can return to school
For an exercise on circles of control see this article by Sarah Peck
Looking for more support?
Josephine seeks to help therapists by providing them with a supportive online community. This is both via her free Facebook group – Good Enough Counsellors – and her paid membership group. The Therapy Growth Group provides fortnightly coaching and networking sessions together with daily support via Facebook. Click below to find out more.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Josephine disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.