Back in the late Fall, I published a survey on helping professional burnout to my website. I sent an invitation to my Facebook and Linked-In contacts and am finally ready to share the results. My intention was somewhat selfish with hope that the outcome would become altruistic. As an assignment for some marketing training, I was to find out what my target audience wants or needs as it relates to a topic I chose. My topic is helping professional burnout. Dictionary.com defines burnout as fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.
In all my years as a social worker and addictions and mental health therapist, I had never designed, let alone implemented a survey. On top of that, a survey published on a website that I had designed for the end purpose of promoting my services as solutions to helping professionals’ problems. My end-goal was clear: produce a course that I could publish and sell online. At first, I did not know what this “course” would be about. I only knew that it needed to be something that my niche audience could relate to.
For those of you that do not know me, my name is Scott Kixmiller and, by trade, I am a licensed social worker and addictions specialist. I am also a practice transformation coach that guides professional therapists and coaches (my niche) into developing the mindset for transforming their practices into more profitable, fulfilling ventures. I offer the fundamental knowledge and tools needed to help you grow your business (yes, your practice is a business). I could go on but that would dilute the purpose of this article.
I say “relate” because the issue of burnout has come up in my life several times over the years. As we all know, professional and career burnout occurs across the board. Burnout can occur no matter what you do or how long you have done it. So, how does one identify and overcome it? Look around and you find multiple sources online, in bookstores, on Amazon, etc that talk about burnout. In my research, the topic is really broad, and I quickly became overwhelmed with all that is out there.
Back in school I don’t remember discussing burnout. I may have been so excited that I was on course to becoming an addictions and mental health therapist that I glazed over the topic of self-care and that becoming burned out is a by-product of not taking care of yourself. Yes, I remember learning somewhere along the way that diet, exercise, and talking with my supervisor and my peers are ways to take care of myself. But what about what to do when alone in the field – no supervisor and no peers close by? What if I am doing all those things and still get this gnawing in my gut that I don’t want to be a therapist or coach anymore? Do I just bail on the field and start all over? You see, this can quickly become a rabbit hole that can be difficult to navigate. Also, substance abuse counselors in recovery are at a higher risk of burnout.
Just over three years ago, I was beginning to get that gnawing feeling (again) and did not know what I needed to do to rejuvenate my desire to help others. I just knew that I was thinking about doing something different but did not know what. At the time, all I was doing was working with addiction and mental health clients. It seemed none were really getting better. I was “stuck” in a practice and was subject to the referrals that only had certain insurances. I liked helping people find their “lightbulb” moments, but it was the “same ole, same ole,” day after day. Then I discovered the world of online, digital marketing and that is why I have a renewed passion for helping others. If you follow me, I’ll share more as time goes on.
This brings us to why we are here: the survey I published in November 2020, and I want to share the results. Out of the 100 or so people that at least “clicked” on the link that led to the survey, around 50 completed all of the questions which took on average five minutes to complete. With the multiple-choice questions, there were clear majorities and with the open-ended questions, there were a multitude of answers that I needed to clump together in categories. The results give me a path to what and how I want to develop and teach my new online course. To all those who participated, thank you! And if you would like to participate, check it out here.
Discover the 3 biggest challenges facing helping professionals when it comes to identifying and eliminating burnout.
1) When it comes to identifying and eliminating burnout, what is your biggest challenge in your practice/work?
2) How have you tried solving the challenge of burnout?
3) What is the number one desired result when identifying and overcoming burnout?
4) If I could support you in overcoming the challenges of identifying and overcoming burnout, how do you prefer to receive support?
5) When it comes to learning about identifying and overcoming burnout, what are the specific topic areas you want to learn more about?
Strengthening areas in emotional intelligence- self-awareness, self-reflection and self-management.
How to get balance. I'm passionate about what I do and love business building so it's hard to stop!
Overcoming recurrent negative thoughts.
Stress reduction, setting boundaries around over-work, sustaining motivation.
Recognizing signs of burnout. Learning how to be aware of future imbalance. Direct steps to take to overcome burnout and regain balance.
How others cope with it, especially in helping professions.
Establishing healthy routine and sticking to it.
How to earn appropriate compensation for the time and energy put into our practices.
Useful communication with coworkers.
Considering new direction for specialties.
I think the people who run the larger institutions that employ helping professionals need to be the ones considering how to have less burnout among their staff. They need to figure out how to make an inherently hard job easier for staff. That can mean finding ways to cut down on paperwork, increasing measures that ensure the physical safety of staff, and increasing flexibility in operating hours.
Prevention, how to get agencies to provide prevention resources and treat employees with respect.
How to manage a large case-load without becoming overwhelmed.
How to prevent burnout more effectively, especially compassion fatigue.
Realistic expectations for self.
I can teach the topic. What is specific about the topic that is not taught are the precipitating symptoms and how they present. For example, fatigue. Most professionals feel fatigued due to lack of sleep, long days an overwhelming amount of paperwork ad nauseam. All the factors that come with the job are the same as onset of burnout.
Setting boundaries with directors when more work is added to you. How to communicate the need for help without being penalized for it or putting any patient’s care on hold while they try to get someone to see them.
Time management tools, taking breaks at work to stretch/breathe, self-affirmation tools, work/life balance tools.
Maintaining professionalism in a toxic work environment.
How to recognize some of the early and maybe less obvious signs that often are not talked about.
Practical interventions that I can incorporate in my professional and personal life to reduce burnout.
How to become more helpful to clients without expecting an unsuccessful outcome. Too many people come to counselors for treatment of their own free will and many try to manipulate the system so they can continue with their addictions. This makes it very difficult to go into a therapeutic relationship expecting positive results.
Why do people refuse to admit it’s happening or casually pass it off as no big deal when they admit they are feeling burned out.
There’s a lot of information about identifying burnout. There is far less information about overcoming burnout in conditions that remain overwhelming.
Ways to grow other interests outside psychotherapy when so many people currently have mental health needs.
6) If you could have any question answered about identifying and overcoming burnout, what would it be?
How to stop the patterns that enabled us to fall prey of becoming burnt out.
How best to be mindful and recognize burnout.
How can I sustain my motivation and how can I snap out of un-useful emotions.
How and where did you get your training about burnout?
How do I not burnout?
How do I myself/self-care a priority?
Why overcome burnout rather than change careers?
How to find a balance between paying off student loan debt and managing our personal finances.
How can I be cured? How to maintain the peace.
What are the major symptoms of burn-out and how should I treat them?
What is the source of burnout psychologically?
Why are the insurance companies assholes? Learn how you can get out of this...
How do I appropriately set boundaries working in a state-wide organization (being given too many cases, working on one salary while carrying cases for multiple offices) while not wanting to get penalized?
How can I take my career seriously without taking it TOO seriously? (i.e. taking it home, taking it to heart, taking it out on my spouse).
How can I recognize when I’m becoming burned out? What other things in life should be considered besides work in determining burn out?
How can I restore balance while under poor clinical supervision?
When you love the actual work you’re doing, but the environment/management is toxic, how do you respond/act.
How do you keep from getting overwhelmed when physical health challenges make staying on top of a schedule challenging?
Mental health professionals, I’m convinced, share some ego injuries that may or may not have been addressed for them. Self-care is hard with obligations. It’s even harder when our sense of worth is bound up in our own suffering. How can we support each other and make our own care a priority as an act of service and professional standard? Especially in the context of medical models that objectify the healers and ignore the fact that we are our instruments of healing.
How to set better boundaries at work.
How to work less and have more fun!
How to increase creativity during COVID-19?
This next question I found particularly useful and I hope you do too.
7) How do I find people just like you? What events do you attend? Where do you spend your time online? What Facebook or LinkedIn groups are you part of? What blogs or publications do you read?
Coaching groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Harvard Business Review.
Business FB groups, I run my own networking group.
FB: Coach the Life Coach; beyond that, there are no specific blogs or groups. I bounce between others that gain my interest.
I attend learning events, Eckhart Tolle events, I read Tinybuddha, watch NLP related videos on YouTube, TedX videos, sports videos etc.
Continuing legal education. Online News sources.
Triad mental health.
I do AA on Zoom, participate in therapeutic-related Facebook groups (just a little, I avoid those negative political discussions), and Instagram is the only social media that I really browse a lot because the arguing between people in the comments is really minimal.
Usually online however I am on a 2-month hiatus. This was my way of self-care as the internet can be a negative force.
Book club, friends’ gatherings.
Facebook mostly. Publicizing things on there. I read a lot of child abuse related publications.
FB groups: Asheville (NC) Woman Therapists, Addiction Professionals of WNC.
Currently I’m not going to any events, but I read a lot of material online.
Facebook groups about private practices & specific specialties like brainspotting.
Triad Mental Health Therapists Facebook Group.
UNC School of Social Work Trainings and Events.
It is impossible to find people like me. I am a consummate professional. I work in prevention. You do not solve a problem. You prevent the problem.
The Mighty- a mental health social network.
Social media and professional organizations.
Facebook Pharmacists Moms group.
I'm not really much of a social media person...part of how I avoid burnout.
Trainings, Triad Coaching Connection, Harvard Business Review publications.
I’m a member of American Association of Psychoanalytic Social Workers and NASW. Need more local connections after leaving an agency this year.
NCAARF training are excellent and second to none.
FB counselors’ site of the Triangle (NC).
NASW-NC and the national NASW.
Reading various books and usually attending live theater and dances.
NASW, NAADAC, APNC.
Biking. Hiking. 12 step meetings. Faith community. NY Times, the Guardian, News 2, plays, opera, music in the park.
I’m also the Associate Director of Psychotherapy services for MindPath Care Centers and these questions are ones we struggle with quite a bit in trying to support and retain our therapists.
This is the problem-no attendance at any events. It is pretty boring to be online all day!
I listen to “How to be awesome at your job.”
8) How long have you been in practice?
9) What gender do you prefer to identify as?
Thank you for participating and thank you for reading. I will be taking this information and putting together some coaching and programming unique to coaches and helping professionals. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below.