If I am not being asked to consult on a client, the number one reason I hear from people in psychiatry, psychology or the counselling professions would be regarding professional burnout.
When people genuinely care it is very easy to develop an attachment to an outcome. That then shifts a counsellor into a state of mind where they are thinking about people, rather than being present with them.
The client remains a separate person with a problem, and the counsellor is another separate person who is sincerely moving through their educational memory, trying to find the matching solution.
That act of ‘trying’ creates a type of psychological tension between the desire for a solution and the need to find a psychological approach that might work. And experiencing too much of that tension is what burns the counsellor out.
As the hilarious film Hector and the Search for Happiness illustrates, if the struggle to find an answer goes on long enough, it’s very understandable that a counsellor could develop deep resentments towards their clients. So action should be taken before it reaches that stage.
Rather than getting caught up in the emotional weather inside people’s heads, we are better to stay in touch with them as ‘the sky.’ This keeps us in touch with their health. And it removes any resistance or desire we feel, which leaves us in a state of sheer presence, which is a beautiful experience.
As an illustration of how powerful and positive these connections can be, keep in mind that I pretty much single-handily care for two people with dementia on lockdown. And yet when given a break from the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I choose to work those precious hours by going on ravine walks with clients. That’s what the titular Shinrin-Yoku means: forest bathing.
Rather than burn me out, sessions invigorate me. I would not have survived how difficult this COVID caregiving experience has been were it not for the joy that gets created when I work with clients. I’ve watched a lot of people spend their lockdown getting happier than they’ve ever been.
Even the phone sessions are very positive and productive. If we needed to actually see each other then I wouldn’t be able to teach this to blind people. So while physical presence is nice, it isn’t necessary to the process.
The one advantage to the ravine walks (where I used to do nearly all of my in-person training), is that during the pandemic those get me out of the house and into nature. Even better, those have me doing something where I know I am making a difference, (when that’s harder to feel when caring for those with dementia).
The trick under COVID is, it can be hard finding people who are available at the exact times I have respite coverage, which is why I’m writing today. Some of you want to feel better, and I love helping people to feel better. That’s an excellent match. So if you’re available locally on Thursday or Sunday afternoons, then maybe this blog is your sign to act.
If those times don’t work for you, note that as restrictions ease and my alternate parent care returns, I will be available for walks and other in-person sessions at other times. If you’re interested in those, please note that a first-come, first-served waiting list has been started.
Of course, I can still go on these walks alone or get other important things done. And that feels great too. But nothing feels as good as helping someone put their troubles behind them. Far from burning me out, that energizes me.
If you’re a burned-out counsellor whose work is negatively impacting your personal life, consider calling. Counsellors have bore a lot weight in society during the pandemic. Plus, work is one third of our lives, so it’s important that you find approaches that leave you feeling rewarded.
If you’re a lay person with some issue to conquer or some change to make, then consider coming on some walks with Scott. It’ll be relaxing and you will soon be feeling better. It’s just that, for the time being, it has to be on either a Thursday or Sunday afternoon. If that works for you, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.