Balance vs. Burnout

Course excerpt from Therapy Tidbits – July/August 2017

Balance vs. BurnoutAchieving balance is a trendy topic. I contemplated using a photo of smooth stones balancing gingerly atop each other because that seems to have become the universal symbol for balance. Instead, I decided “person not yet falling into the water” seemed a more accurate visual representation of what the quest for maintaining balance actually feels like.

As healthcare professionals, we understand the negative effects that chronic stress has on our bodies and mental health. I suspect that we have found ourselves, many times, urging our clients to develop self-care strategies that will help them maintain more balanced lives. We know balance is good for us. There is a felt sense of satisfaction and ease when the proportion of our expended effort is similar to the amount of rest and nourishment we enjoy.

As early career psychologists we are still in the initial stages of our careers. Undoubtedly, we are well rested and buzzing with the enthusiasm that comes from finally being able to pursue the career for which we’ve worked hard. Right?

Well, not necessarily. In fact, in my dissertation research, I used a true experimental design to study the impact of mindfulness practice on mental health service providers-in-training. One surprising finding was that all 16 of the participants (from control and experimental groups) initially met criteria for burnout.

Let that sink in a bit.

All 16 of the providers-in-training were experiencing burnout. They had not even graduated yet and were already depleted. Burnout has been described psychologically as a “syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do people work of some kind.” I can’t say I was surprised, more like, validated. After all, there was a reason I chose to study the topic.

It’s clear that burnout is not something that only develops after spending decades doing “people work.” Burnout is believed to start during graduate training when stressful course loads are coupled with practicum assignments. We work with distressed patients under evaluative circumstances while maintaining a vested interest in “getting it right.”

The frantic pace of graduate school seems to serve as the catalyst for a continued demanding schedule, which can later result in the perpetual cycle of an imbalanced professional life. I wonder if many of us shared the fantasy “when I graduate (and no longer have to study for tests, live on student loans, work in settings that are grueling) I’m going to finally start taking care of myself?” I wonder how many of us can honestly say that we’ve made good on that promise?

Perhaps we could all benefit from reflecting on our degree of work/life balance upon completion of our training and strategizing about ways to build self-care into our lives in tangible ways. I say tangible because, let’s face it, we all have an idea about what balance looks like, but are we living in ways that allow us to actually sense a state of balance or harmony within our minds and bodies?

Regular check-ins regarding our work/life balance and modifications of those strategies must become one of our professional responsibilities if we are to enjoy a fulfilling career while doing our best work. Balance is a subjective experience and there is a different degree of permeability between work/life boundaries that feels right to each person. Some aren’t burdened by responding to emails after work, but for some, it may be hard to get out of “clinical mode” until they’ve fully transitioned from work into home.

Some need to practice yoga every morning while others feel refreshed after a weekend Netflix binge. Maybe you’d like to take a moment to reflect on your work/life balance now, and commit to prioritizing one or two specific acts of self-care this week? To further increase the chances that you’ll actually make time for self-care, perhaps you’d like to set a reminder on your phone or calendar?

Click here to learn more.

Therapy Tidbits – July/August 2017 is a 1-hour online continuing education (CE) course comprised of select articles from the July/August 2017 issue of The National Psychologist, a private, independent bi-monthly newspaper intended to keep mental health professionals informed about practice issues. Course #11-11 | 2017 | 18 pages | 10 posttest questions

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB #1046, ACE Program); the Florida Boards of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling (#BAP346) and Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).


Helping the Helpers of Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 5.3 million people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer’s and nearly 11 million unpaid caregivers involved in their daily care. It is the 7th leading cause of death, and it costs us around 172 billion dollars each year. While there are a number of causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common type, accounting for 60-80% of cases. In advanced Alzheimer’s, people need help with bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, eating, and other daily activities. Those in the final stages of the disease lose their ability to communicate, fail to recognize loved ones, and become bed-bound and are reliant on 24/7 care. Their needs can become an almost unbearable burden for their caregivers.

alzheimer's continuing education“This is where family members and other unpaid caregivers begin to come to the attention of health and mental health professionals,” says Leo Christie, PhD, CEO of Professional Development Resources. “While most caregivers are proud of the help they provide, many of them also experience very high levels of stress and depression associated with their caregiving roles. One study showed that family members who provided care to a person with dementia spent at least 46 hours per week assisting the person in the last year before the person’s death. The majority felt they were on duty 24 hours a day. Our goal is to provide continuing education (CE) courses that give professionals the tools they need to help the helpers.”

Negative health effects can run the gamut from stress to heart disease. Research has indicated that caregivers – many of whom are elderly themselves – may show high levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, new hypertension, and new coronary heart disease. In one study, 24% of spouse caregivers had at least one ER visit or hospitalization in the previous six months. Mental health effects include severe stress and depression. There are also social and economic impacts, such as isolation and reduced employment.

“Our main task is to convince caregivers that it’s OK to ask for help and take time for themselves,” adds Christie. “They feel that they should be able to do everything themselves, that it’s not all right to leave the person with someone else, that no one will help even if they ask, or that they don’t have the money to pay someone to watch the person for an hour or two. It all adds up to burnout.”

Among the Alzheimer’s courses offered by Professional Development Resources are:

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