I have colleagues who have suffered therapist burnout. The symptoms vary from:

  • mild depression
  • feeling totally wiped out
  • unable to work or get on with life

How can it be that depression, anxiety and stress arise in those mental health professionals trained to treat these very symptoms?

Could it be:

  • Feeling responsible for holding the clients together?
  • Feeling we are their only support?
  • Feeling inadequate for this task?
  • Feeling dreadful because of their unhappy lives?
  • Feeling guilt that our lives are so much better?
  • Feeling we have failed one or several of them?
  • Worrying about them all the time?

Do we tell our clients that they choose how they feel – that their feelings are not dictated by what goes on around them? Mmmm – what about us taking all this on ... are we practicing what we preach?

Some of us have been trained to think that we are there to hold and support the client whilst we co-create a relationship in which they can change their patterns. These patterns originated because the client made a STORY about how they needed to be in the world in order to cope – or sometimes even to survive. Many of these patterns come from a young age where the story they were making felt true ... “If I am a good girl, Daddy will not drink.”

These patterns are not really who the client is – they are a result of what has happened to them – patterns they have adapted to – based on their experiences. If the therapist KNOWS this – they hold this truth for the client.

Then the client begins to see that their adaptation:

  • Is not who they really are
  • Is a decision they made to live a certain way
  • A choice they made to be a certain way based on what was happening to them or around them at that time

Knowing and accepting this – they can begin to explore who they really are. They can begin to challenge the adaptation and eventually claim who they really are beneath it. This can then become the focus of the therapy:

  • processing their hurt
  • accepting it
  • learning to live their true UNADAPTED self
  • learning to make self-loving choices

Yes – Mum and/or Dad might have been awful and that has caused them to believe certain things about their self-worth – BUT IT IS ONLY A STORY – they are in fact worthy. When the therapist can clearly hold the truth that the client is not their adaptation or their defense against feeling their pain – then this truth is in the client’s field and accessible to them to aid them in emerging from the adaptation. This is a very different concept to “treating a client for a mental health disorder”.

When the client can begin to understand that they have been given this precious human life because they are worthy of it then they may be able to live more joyfully. If we as therapists hold this belief then they have a greater chance of getting it. We therefore present what we know and live, which is that they are in fact the love of their heart and that they can choose to connect to and live from this and let go of the old convincing story – the client then chooses to engage with it, or not.

We can only be responsible for presenting what we know – not what they choose to do with it.

Of course – our holding that they are in fact the gentleness, tenderness and love of their inner heart as we are of ours – creates a space that holds the client and helps them to connect with it, challenging their old beliefs.

So if we are only responsible for holding our own gentleness, tenderness and love and believing in theirs, then we don’t need to take on all the anxiety and stress that leads to depression, feeling overwhelmed and therapist burnout in mental health professionals.

Filed under

Self-worthStressMental healthBurnout

  • By Jean Gamble, Psychotherapist

    Jean works with individuals, couples, families, teenagers and children. She knows that when we move past our layers of protection from hurt and connect deeply with our innermost self we can have rich, satisfying and purposeful lives and relationships.