February 24, 2021
We are not superheroes.
The number of news articles with headlines crying with concern about counselor and therapy burn-out is occurring almost weekly.
Our professional and peer journals have been writing about the state of our mental health and burn-out since the pandemic began last year. Each person develops their own self-care routine, strategies, and mechanisms but the reality is what the world is going through is unprecedented. People working in the behavioral health field are “helpers” by choice or calling, and whether you are working directly with clients or making sure the lights stay on, the pressure and stress is being felt from top to bottom, left to right.
Managing feelings of burn-out during this past year’s pandemic reminds me of the analogy used in grief therapy. Burn-out, like grief, can come in waves and sometimes it will knock you down because it was unexpected, but we can and do get back up and the waves become less frequent. Self-care helps these waves become less frequent or overwhelming. Other therapists and counselors I have talked with about this said they have been managing; they say they compartmentalize in order to do the job. This has been my go-to strategy for 20 years, but the pandemic has challenged its effectiveness. I am not alone in discovering that the old ways of doing “self-care” aren’t working.
The magazine articles, journals, and peer articles. and newspaper reports are pointing to similar themes. We are human beings, not superheroes. We put tremendous pressure on ourselves day in and day out. Even when we are encouraged to “self-care,” follow-through can be difficult because self-care can look different right now than it did pre-pandemic, and what was an option before may not be an option.
So, if the wave knocks you off-kilter, know you can get up and try again tomorrow.
Take the big sigh, binge-watch TV for 10 hours on Saturday, or take the nap. You don’t have to be 100%, 100% of the time.
Toni Steinbarth, MS, LMHC
Managing Director of Community Based Services
Spectrum Human Services Inc.