Some ways to avoid burnout when working as a therapist

 

I’ll briefly mention a few different things that – in my experience – helps with avoiding burnout when working as a therapist.

The obvious one is to reduce the number of clients to a manageable level, and perhaps outsource the non-therapy parts of the process.

Another important factor is which modalities we use. Staying at the story-level tends to create burnout and may also not be the best approach for trauma clients. (I realize that, in some settings, the modalities we use is not a choice.)

It helps to keep the story-level interactions to a minimum and focus on approaches that work on other levels. For instance, dismantling how the mind creates its own experience of the trauma or emotional issue (inquiry, cognitive therapy), somatic work (releasing trauma from the body), energy work (Vortex Healing, Craniosacral etc.), or even heart-centered practices (ho’oponopno, tonglen). Forms of mindfulness can also be helpful if done in a trauma-informed way.

Burnout typically means we are burnt out from having our own emotional issues and struggles with the world (clients and their stories) triggered. This means it’s important for us to notice what’s triggered in us, take it seriously, and address it. Often, there are some recurrent issues which means that taking of these can help us a lot. And it often helps to have someone else facilitating us in identifying and working on these issues.

What type of issues may be triggered in us? It may be unresolved issues brought alive by similar issues in our clients, being overly invested with a helper role and wanting to “fix” the client, not feeling good enough or up to the task, having guilt, sadness, or anxiety come up, or feeling traumatized through exposure to the trauma of the clients (usually because it triggers existing issues in us).

In all of these cases, our own stressful beliefs and emotional issues are triggered by working with clients, the clients do us a favor by helping us see what’s left in us to work on, and the situation requires us to go deeper and address our own issues so we don’t burn out.

One recipe for burnout is to have way too many clients, do everything ourselves, stay at a (stressful) story level with the clients, and not address the issues triggered in ourselves. And a recipe for avoiding burnout is to do the reverse.

There is obviously something else that’s important when it comes to burnout, and that’s our work situation and social and economic factors. If we work for someone else, we may not be able to reduce the number of clients or schedule in enough breaks. We may also not be able to chose which modalities we use (which may mean we are stuck with talk therapy). And if we work independently, the way society is set up and functions may require us to have more clients than we feel is appropriate for financial reasons.

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Inquiry, TRE, Vortex Healing etc. vs talk therapy

 
Talk therapy can be helpful in some situations, depending on the client, issue, therapist, and timing. In the best case, it can give us some sense of being seen and understood. That what we experience is normal. And it can give us some helpful insights and pointers. For me, I generally find other approaches far more helpful. In my case, it’s the ones I tend to write about here: Ho’oponopno to change my relationship to myself, others, a situation, or the world. Tonglen for the same. Inquiry for releasing beliefs (The Work) or charges out of an issue (Living Inquiries). Therapeutic trembling to release tension and trauma out of the body, and even out of specific issues (TRE). Vortex Healing for a current situation, emotional issues or identifications, and even for physical issues. All supported by training a more stable attention (samatha), and also noticing and allowing what’s here (Natural Rest, Shikantaza). And for me, all of that supported by nature. A relatively healthy diet. Some physical activity. Nurturing of nurturing relationships and activities. And whatever else seems helpful. Read More