I am a Licensed Psychologist in full-time private practice in Bethesda and Annapolis. I have been in private practice since 1998 and love the work I do.
My father did this work in White Oak, Maryland from the mid 1960’s until his death in 2003. He was known as a therapist’s therapist – so when a therapist wanted or needed training, or personal help for their life or marriage, or family they often called upon my dad for his professional consultation. He was an innovator in the work such that his influence and impact on the community has gone beyond his living years.
I have implemented many successful programs to avoid and prevent burnout in my work that I conduct and so I feel qualified to address this subject.
Where does professional burnout stem from?
I heard a wise and straightforward definition of burnout once that went something like this: Burnout occurs when a person looks for the right thing in the wrong places.
If we use this as a guidepost in helping define professional burnout, this would translate as looking for certain kinds of gains, benefits, growth experiences, fulfillments in places that ultimately disappoint.
Some of the more well known cases of burnout in recent years has come from the ranks of coaching. For those of us old enough to remember, Dick Vermeil, the one time coach of the Philadelphia Eagles was crying during a nationally televised interview in which he stated that he was retiring from the NFL because he was “burned out”.
Dick Vermeil turned out to be a man who approached his players as if he were their caring father. He poured everything he had emotionally into his players who may have a hard childhood, or were in some way attempting to transcend extraordinary circumstances in their personal and professional lives.
This monumental cultural moment, where a professional football coach cried on the national airwaves was a prime example of the definition of burnout given above. Vermeil could be understood as looking to give and receive relationships that carried men through to greater heights in a work setting that was cold, physical, brutal and fiercely competitive.
What type of impact can professional burnout have on someone’s overall life?
Burnout is a very dangerous pitfall, especially in today’s America.
Burnout is insidious, it sneaks up on us, and when it hits it can be pervasive, and destroy our livelihoods, our families and our dreams.
So many of us define our identities by our careers. For some their identities in career are more persistent and long-lasting then their marriages, or their family lives.
Few people think about or prepare themselves for the experience of burnout. If they did they might seek ways to prevent the phenomenon from sneaking up on them. Once they are bit by it there are forced to continue work in a setting where they feel burnt out, or at a time of low energy go recreate themselves in the work force.
What tips can you provide to help someone cope with professional burnout?
This answers to this question may be best served when divided into two categories: 1. How to prevent burnout. 2. And how to cope with burnout.
Burnout prevention is best done in a relationship with someone you trust. Know thyself is the ticket to real prevention. This can be hard to do without some help from people we can trust to give us honest feedback.
I spend a good deal of my professional career attempting to help people understand themselves better so that they can better define what they want and need in their personal and professional lives. In so doing they can come to terms with more and more efficient ways of getting what they are looking for in relationships, work and life.
How to deal with burnout once you are in crisis is a bit more complex question to grapple with. Honestly most of us do not even approach this potential pitfall until we are up to our necks in it. Burnout can come from being in conflict with the boss, or the system. It can be from chasing the all mighty dollar with little left for ourselves in return. It can come from trying too hard to please others, who ultimately did not care about our efforts.
Whatever the reasons that we hit the burnout wall, the key to making the crisis one in which learn from and never encounter again is to seek meaningful, caring help from those whom we trust. In my professional life I am often this person for people, because sometimes it is simply easier, cleaner to ask someone outside your immediate social system to help untangle complex personal matters.
Once a healthy trust is established I seek to advocate for the people I work with to help guide them away from snake pits, and unforeseen problems. Another way to see it is like this, however we are made we cannot see ourselves as others see us. Having another pair of eyes on our situation helps us avoid danger spots, work entanglements, and energy sapping dramas.
What type of professional help is available for someone experiencing professional burnout
Some of aspects of this question have already been addressed above, but it is worth further exploration. One way to understand burnout is that we are seeking to resolve, untangle or receive something that we either did not receive or feel unresolved about from an earlier more formative moment in our development.
I offer people the frame that the crisis is a potential crossroads in their life. If they are willing to slow down and examine the forces that are operating behind the curtain that brought them to this moment, they offer themselves the opportunity to get more of what they are seeking in life.
Burnout prevention/intervention is a complex set of problems. The best way to help protect ourselves is to find people to talk with that we feel we can trust. Learning from others who do the work that I do has kept me from being too lonely. It has taught me to sort out more closely what I am looking for and how to get that.