Career burnout remains a problem for Mental Health Professionals (MHPs). According to a 2012 study, “. . . [t]he mental health field has paid relatively little attention to the health and well-being of its own workers.” Working with a range of patients who may possess diverse challenges—trauma, sexual issues, depression and anxiety—MHPs are exposed to daily challenges that are simply absent in other careers. That said, however, possessing the right tools and strategies can make a difference and help to negate career burnout.
Below are six simple tools and strategies for MHPs that can be useful for avoiding career burnout:
1. Be Positive. It sounds almost cliché, but cultivating the right mental attitude remains an important strategy in combating career fatigue. It appears that when starting out, many who enter a career in counseling, for instance, have an optimistic outlook. These individuals are motivated by helping others and making a difference in their profession. Over time, however, that optimism wanes and is later replaced by a sort of creeping cynicism—cynicism about co-workers, patients, supervisors and the work itself. Choosing to see things differently, possessing a different attitude, may be a simple and long-term tool to help combat a cynical career outlook.
2. Pace Yourself. At times, problems abound all at once: in a single day, week or year. Problems with co-workers or dealing with a difficult patient can raise thoughts like, “Why do I bother?” or “I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this.” Yet most challenges don’t last long, and pacing yourself throughout the day, week or longer helps to break things up.
3. Develop a Support System. It has been said for a long time that “misery loves company,” but so does happiness. When career challenges arise, seek out the support of those who can relate to your struggle. It’s reasonably certain that, in the case of an early career professional, there may be other, more experienced professionals who have faced the same challenges before. Ask questions. Seek advice. Many times, more experienced professionals are happy to share their experiences.
4. Set Career Benchmarks. This is where long- and short-term goal setting remains important. Having a sense of where you are and where you would like to be acts as a roadmap to the present and the future. MHPs have many options: clinical work, administrative work, academic work, and so on. That these possibilities exist means that career options exist. Perhaps one may find administrative work dull but perhaps the same individual may find working with clients rewarding. Identifying clear career benchmarks is a great way to know where you stand and where you are going.
5. Seek Challenges. Many individuals tend to avoid change, but seeking new challenges tends to liven things up and adds a dynamic to one’s routine. Sure, routines have their place. They establish predictability and enable comfort, but they can also become drab over long time periods. Seeking challenges, whether personally or professionally, adds adventure—however small—to one’s situation.
6. Be Kind to Yourself (and to others). Sometimes we are just too hard on ourselves. Things don’t always work out in every instance, so it remains important to know when we did our best. Self-criticism can, in the right context, be useful and motivating, but being too hard on ourselves can be damaging. Likewise, pushing others to their limit is not always for the best, either. When working with clients in a clinical context, some professionals push themselves too hard. Reminding yourself of the positive changes you’ve helped to foster can be rewarding.
Only now are researchers and academics beginning to pay more attention to the mental health of MHPs. Although more research is needed, it remains clear that using simple tools and strategies can be useful in avoiding burnout. Facing a variety of career challenges, MHPs can find meaning in their careers and become more effective professionals by, for example, seeking challenges, setting career benchmarks, and developing a support system. . . to name a few. Finally, this will not only be good for MHPs, but it will also help the people they serve: their clients.
Morse, G., Salyers, M., Rollins, A., Monroe-DeVita, M., & Pfahler, C. (n.d.). Burnout in Mental Health Services: A Review of the Problem and Its Remediation. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156844/