The Little Actions That Lead to Big Burnout

We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s the little things” and today I’m going to talk about the little things that many of us do every day or every week that we might not realize can lead us down a path towards burnout, and what we can do about it. Here goes:

You avoid conversations about money with your clients.

Whether it’s about paying down that balance, having a conversation about raising your fee, or going off your client’s insurance panel, you dance around the topic or outright avoid it altogether. First off, let me say the thing that you are probably hoping isn’t true: Your client notices, on some level, that you aren’t talking about it. Yikes, right? And, even if you are really adept at rationalizing it, or compartmentalizing it, it’s also having an impact on you, and your work.

Put it this way: What kind of way are you going to feel when your client who owes you a balance has just bought a new pair of designer shoes? Or when you are scrimping by financially while your client is getting promoted and going on vacation? It doesn’t matter your skill level, that shit is going to get to you, little-by-little. How are we supposed to help our clients achieve their dreams (Louboutins and all) when we are barely getting by?

You don’t uphold your own cancellation policy.

You set a cancellation policy for a reason. It’s because your time is extremely valuable. Time is a nonrenewable resource (you can always find ways to make more money, you can’t get time back once it’s gone). And in fact, your time is exactly what your clients are paying for. Yes they are paying you for your presence, and your experience, but crucially, they are paying you to hold an hour in your schedule for them each week. You have upheld your end of the bargain by setting aside that hour, and showing up for it.

Let’s also not forget that likely, you have plenty of other things to do, or you had to jump through other hoops to make sure that you were available at that time (paying your kids daycare, finding a parking spot, paying your landlord for the office time, etc.).

The point is, you are running a business, and you need to be paid well for your time.

You let your sessions run over time.

Paying attention for 45 minutes (or 50, or 60, or 75, or 90 or whatever it is you do) is a skill. It’s a basic part of what we as therapists do every day for our jobs, and it’s not something that everyone can do because it’s actually quite hard work. We take that basic part of our job for granted a lot of times.

And then it’s not just paying attention passively, it’s absorbing emotional content, formulating an understanding of another human being (even clients you have seen for years), and responding in a therapeutic way (whatever that looks like for you).

Where I’m going with this is that you need a damn break! Even if it’s just those 10 minutes in between, enough time to pee, and eat a small snack. It’s important to your mental and physical health.

And, as a side note, clinically, it’s really important that you start and end on time. I could go on about this topic, but long story short, it’s about modeling good boundaries as well as providing a safe container for the clinical work to happen. And when I say “safe”, I mean for your client of course, but for you as well.

Taking a break is taking care of you, and your client.

You take phone calls/emails/texts and don’t charge for them (even though it says in your policy that you do).

I’ll say this again (and again and again because it’s so important): You’re time is valuable. You don’t get it back. Once it’s gone it’s gone.

AND your care, and attention, and expertise is valuable. You trained for how many hours/days/weeks/years? You spent how much on getting your business going?

So sitting down to write an email takes time, and your time is valuable. Some clinicians have these services rolled into their fee, and that’s fine if that’s your policy. But, bottom line, make sure you think about how kind and fair your policies are to YOU (because I know you’ve already spent plenty of time on thinking about how kind and fair they are to your clients) and make sure you stick to them.

You see more clients per day or per week than you want to see OR you see clients at times of day that you don’t really want to be in the office (e.g. evenings, weekends, early AM, after school hours).

This might be the more obvious one. When we work a long day or a long week, we can feel that pretty much immediately (that whole, “got ran over by a truck” feeling).

When it comes to this common behavior, there’s a way in which we can sometimes forget that this is OUR business. So what that means is that the business should work for us-we are the ones, after all, setting it up.

I know I have gotten myself stuck in some sort of mindset like “I couldn’t possibly ask clients to change their schedule”. It was a supervisor of mine who was just like “why not?” Oh right. Why not? Any other professional that you work with (your doctor, your dentist, your accountant) has a set schedule, and those schedules change, and we don’t blink. Why is it that we assume we can’t do the same? I talk about this more in my post Patterns and Mindsets That Are Lowkey Draining Your Practice, but one mindset we can get stuck in is putting the needs of everyone else above our own, which ultimately helps no one.

If you are having a hard time finding clients who can come in at times you are available, then it may be that you need a shift in your marketing plan. For some tips on this, check out my post How to Do Marketing And Not Feel Gross.

You are seeing clients that aren’t a good fit for you or that you don’t enjoy working with.

Another lesson I learned from that same supervisor went something like this:

Me: But I can’t just stop working with the clients that I really am not enjoying working with.

Supervisor: Why not?

Me: Oh, good point.

Her “why nots” were apparently very powerful. I think it has to do with those thinking ruts and behavior patterns we all get into. It’s hard to see that there are other possibilities when we are in them.

Being a therapist does not mean we have to work with everyone. We shouldn’t. We won’t be our most effective, for sure, and it’s doing a disservice to our clients (because there is someone out there who could and would want to work with your client).

You don’t have the amount of human contact that you need.

Everyone needs a different amount, and I can’t say what that is for you. But it’s important that you figure out what that is for you, and find ways to meet that need. It can also vary at different times depending on what is going on in your life, so it’s important to attend to that as well. Private practice is by default really isolating, so it’s up to us to counter balance that.

Ok, so now what do I do?

My best recommendation is that if you realize you are doing any of the above, it’s a good idea to get some consultation (be that supervision, or therapy, or the awesome “one-two punch” of both).

Sometimes we use consultation to work on some of the more “hot button” issues that show up, but there is a lot going on in these smaller behaviors that is worth looking at. In fact, I think even more so than in the “hot buttons” because if we let these behaviors continue, they actually compound in their toll on us over time.

Thoughts? Feelings? Anything I missed? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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Melissa KellyComment