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Resiliency and Recovery: Mental Health Professionals

March, 29, 2022 / by Victor Staff

Blog Banner - Resiliency and Recovery - Mental Health ProfessionalsWho takes care of the people who take care of us? Our doctors also need doctors, and our therapists need their own counseling because they are human too. They have their own emotions and needs which need to be honored and addressed.

In our latest series, we’re discussing what resiliency looks like for everyone involved in mental and behavioral health treatment and recovery, including patients, family, friends, and mental health professionals. At Victor, our mission is to help others soar in the ways we are able. By sharing stories of hope, we aim to inspire others to learn more about the important work we believe in and witness how it transforms lives.

Working in the field of mental and behavioral health and community support services is hard, but it is also good. In fact, at Victor we believe it’s some of the most rewarding work a person can do. But we are also aware of the challenges. Therefore, we know it’s very important to make sure we promote resiliency and self-care to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue in our mental health professionals.

The Difference Between Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Burnout is one of the terms we’ve become more familiar with in light of COVID-19. There have been a variety of new stressors on everyone making burnout a more likely occurrence in our professional and personal lives.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and sometimes physical exhaustion due to repeated or long-term stress. It’s typically correlated to work, but parenting, caretaking, or responsibilities outside of work can also cause it. It goes deeper than just being tired. It also has a component of cynicism and depression.

One of the important things to note about burnout is that it doesn’t happen overnight. There are steps and signs before someone reaches full burnout that are important to identify and correct before mental health professionals reach their last straw. Counselor burnout can feel like having a sense of dread about their next session and even anger directed at their work.

So, what is compassion fatigue?

Think of compassion fatigue as a form of burnout. The symptoms of compassion fatigue are very similar to burnout, but the causes are slightly different. Compassion fatigue is more specific to certain professions. It is caused by being exposed to other people’s trauma for long periods of time. Like burnout, the symptoms put someone’s physical and mental health at risk, but also make it difficult for them to give care.

It is sometimes also known as secondary trauma because the mental health professional starts to personally feel their client or patients’ feelings of heartbreak, devastation, etc. from trauma. It is particularly common in first responders, humanitarian aid workers, and mental and behavioral health professionals.

Causes of Therapist and Counselor Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Therapist and counselor burnout can easily occur because they are regularly exposed to their client’s trauma. But there are other factors that need to be considered.

Relationships with Clients

Relationships with clients are all different and not always positive. In one session the way a client behaves can make you feel like you are the best therapist ever, and in the next session you feel ineffective and incompetent. This can lead to insecurities about qualifications and sense of worth.

Duties and Responsibilities Outside of Sessions

Responsibilities outside of a session also need to be considered. There are paperwork and administrative responsibilities that behavioral and mental health professionals need to complete. They still care about their clients’ well-being, even when they leave from an appointment, and when they are ‘off the clock’.

Not Personally Seeing Long Term Effects

Being in the mental and behavioral health is one of the most rewarding fields, but it doesn’t always have linear outcomes. When a doctor heals a broken leg with a cast, they are treating the problem and will know when the healing is complete.

This means that therapists may work incredibly hard for a long period of time and make slow progress. Any progress is important to celebrate, but it is challenging to experience this in the long term. Furthermore, when treatment is successful and the patient leaves, the counselor doesn’t always get to see the positive changes their work helped create. It takes resiliency and hope for mental health professionals to know their treatment is making impacts over time even if they aren’t the easiest to see.

Boundaries Between Work and Personal Life

Working in behavioral and mental health can offer great tools in one’s personal life. However, without intentional awareness, feelings of grandiosity and ‘becoming everyone’s counselor’ can enter the personal lives of mental health workers which actually separates them from important healing human connection.

Preventing Burnout and Promoting Compassion Resiliency

Empathy and compassion are beautiful qualities that this field needs, and we need caring people for the work. We would never tell a patient they need to sacrifice their own care for another’s after all. So why would we, as mental health professionals, do it to ourselves?

Organizations soar when they prioritize health care provider well-being along with client care, improving population health outcomes, sound policy and procedure. When everyone is growing, developing, and taking care of themselves, business can get done in an effective and healthy way. It is critical to create an internal culture that supports our mental and behavioral health professionals and gives them tools to develop compassion resilience.

Compassion resilience can be defined as “the ability to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental well-being while responding compassionately to people who are suffering.” But how do mental and behavioral health professionals accomplish this?

Here are seven ways to prevent burnout and promote compassion resilience for mental health professionals:

  1. Identify what you can control: assess what is in your power to change and express your needs and emotions to those around you. Taking care of yourself now will prevent burnout later.
  2. Maintain your foundation: get good sleep, eat nutrient dense foods, and move your body regularly. The healthier your body, the better able you are to make a positive impact on others.
  3. Detach: this one can be hard because of associated feelings of guilt. You need to take time to take a break from caring for others in their trauma and suffering. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
  4. Spend quality time with friends and family: research has shown that social support is crucial in strengthening one’s ability to deal with trauma exposure. Friends and family can remind you of the world outside of work and remind you of your deservingness of care.
  5. Remember your why: remember why you started working in mental and behavioral health in the first place. Your work is important, but so are you.
  6. Peer support: No person is an island. If you are having challenges at work or the load is heavy, bounce ideas off your peers or a mentor. They can offer empathy and good ideas.
  7. Fill up your cup: find what makes you happy and lifts your soul. When you put things that bring your joy and rejuvenation in your life you can stay resilient.

When someone decides to work in mental and behavioral health, they want to make a positive difference in the lives of others. They know there is hope for change and for people to live happy, full lives and soar, no matter their current circumstances. With the proper self-care and habits to promote compassion resiliency, our specialists, therapists, and councilors will be able to personally soar while lifting up others.

One of our employees says, “I choose to work at Victor because of the sense of mission to children and families that is present in every staff member from the highest administrative level on down. At our site the atmosphere is positive overall, and people are mutually supportive and encouraging.”

At Victor, we believe in creating an organizational culture of care, support, development, and encouragement. We hold ourselves accountable using our Impact Reports to measure our service and organizational health. Because when you care about your staff, they are better able to care for their clients.

We strive to be a leader in our industry and provide care that is second to none. We do that by staying focused on our mission and values. If you are looking for a fulfilling career in behavioral and mental health and community services in California, we invite you to see what positions we currently have available.

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Topics: Therapeutic Behavior Services, About Victor

Victor Staff

Written by Victor Staff

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