Caring for the Soul

January 10, 2010

Stopping the Fire Before it Starts

Steps for Burnt-out Prevention

Let me begin by saying that speaking on behalf of those in the helping profession, I can attest that counseling is a very rewarding experience for therapists. We find ourselves encouraged by the reality that the time we invest in our clients, changes this person’s life for the better. We witness how our gift of helping assists one to no longer be afraid of going out in public and it allows another to work through their relationship difficulties in order to save their marriage. However, counseling, as well know, is a process which can take months or even years.

It is on this journey that we take with our clients that we face many emotionally draining moments. These moments include our clients entrusting us with their burdens which become heavy to carry. This process of counseling is not always filled with successes. We hear our clients’ pain and we feel our clients’ pain as if it is our own. There are even occasions when our client’s regress. These are the difficult moments in which we as therapists feel yet more so responsible for what our clients are experiencing. Then we even begin to question our own abilities. So regardless of the resulting reward of counseling, it is a very challenging profession which expects many demands; physical, emotional and spiritual. Day after day the therapist is ethically required to put the needs of his or her clients above the needs of their own.

Yet, it is inevitable that if one continues to suppress their needs and take on stress without properly managing the tension, it will result in burnt-out. So knowing this, we should ask the question, “What can be done about it?” How can a person in the helping profession prevent reaching the point of burnt-out? The following are a few insights to assist in this process.

Be attentive of your needs
It is among the prime responsibilities of a helper to be aware of and attentive to their own needs. This often is the most difficult task. As we are programmed to be aware of the needs of others, we often find it foreign to tend to ourselves. But, it is only when your personal needs are taken care of that you will be able to provide the best possible treatment for your clients. In simple terms, if you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of another.

If you find yourself not having time to take care of yourself then it is crucial that you make the time. This may include rearranging your schedule or learning the ever hard word, “No”. Keep in mind that when you are emotionally and physically exhausted you could be doing more harm than good to your clients.

Recognizing the first signs of stress
Not everyone reacts to stress in the same manner. So it is important that you be able to recognize your personal signs of stress whether it is that you become easily frustrated or the complete opposite of that you simply begin to not care or feel hopeless. Or you may find yourself at first having a hard time concentrating. Some people sleep a lot while others cannot sleep at all. On a more personal level you may find yourself neglecting yourself and family or avoiding activities you enjoy.

Yet, however you experience stress the resulting effects can have a negative impact on not only yourself but on your clients as well if not dealt with properly. According to the article in the Medical Economics “Do you care too much” by G. Weiss, one of the most dangerous results of stress is that a helper could experience what is know as compassion fatigue in which they begin to have unrealistic expectations of their clients. This in turn could lead to a tendency to push clients to resolve issues before they are ready. And this is only one of the many resulting negative effects if a helper does not recognize their own signs of stress.

Establish realistic expectations
It is very easy for a person in the helping profession to become overwhelmed. It is the hardest task to turn someone away whom needs your assistance. However, unfortunately as much as we would like, we cannot help everyone. And this is something that we have to come to terms with in order to prevent burnt-out. It is important that we establish realistic expectations which include boundaries and limits. We cannot be on call 24/7. We need to learn to separate our professional obligations from our personal lives.

Find a release
Without an appropriate and healthy way of releasing the tensions or stressors that accumulate into stress one will become anxious to the point of alienating oneself from others. When this happens one enters a vicious downward spiral which becomes difficult to get out of. If one becomes alienated they have no support system to help them recover. Therefore, it is essential that one find appropriate ways of releasing stress even if it is just doing small things every once and a while so stress doesn’t build up. The key to this step is not only finding that release, but actually taking the time to do it.

Take advantage of resources
No matter how strong you think you are, you are never too strong to ask for help. We are only human and should not be embarrassed when we do not know it all. It is our ultimate gold to provide the best care for our clients and this cannot be accomplished without resources. Resources allow you to not be alone when encountering the burdens of your clients. And just as your clients talk to you about their problems you should also have someone to talk to about your problems.

Burnt-out Prevention is a topic which has received much attention within these past recent years. We are becoming somewhat of experts on the topic when it comes to assisting clients through the prevention process. Yet when it comes to our own lives we overlook the need for such an essential act. In order that we are most helpful we must learn how to prevent burnt-out for ourselves. And it is not enough to know what steps to take, we actually have to be proactive and take the time to make the needed steps.