There are so many therapists that are burned out and wanting to leave the profession altogether. Are you one of them?
Over the years, I have created a few different videos touching on burnout as a therapist.
But in this article I’m taking a little bit of a different angle.
My prior content about burnout focused more on acute burnout: you’re overworked, you feel you have little control over your schedule or your workload, or maybe you’re experiencing some secondary trauma. All of those are super important to address.
Therapists Are Done With The Profession
But beyond acute burnout, I’m noticing more and more that therapists are burning out on the profession altogether. As in, questioning whether they want to practice clinical therapy work at all.
Everyone has complete freedom to step away, pivot, or do whatever the heck they want with their career. But, I am seeing a tendency for a lot of therapists to carry guilt or shame when they feel burned out in the profession.
I hear folks question whether they’re a good therapist, or if they don’t care enough about the work, etc. And I think there is so much more to the story than that.
In this article, I’m going to explore some thoughts, and opinions about what I think is going on here amongst therapists.
These Are Just My Thoughts And Musings
And before I dive in, let me emphasize that these are all just my purely subjective and anecdotal reflections, as I don’t have hard evidence or research to cite. Please take these as just my thoughts and do with them what you will.
But this conversation seems worth having and wondering about together.
3 Reasons I Think Therapists Are Burned Out
The primary theme behind all my musings here is: there are some aspects about how our profession is currently set up that don’t make sense, seem a bit backward, or are straight up harmful.
1) Aspects Of Our Profession Are Oppressive
- Whether therapists realize this consciously or not, many have a realization that there is some oppression inherently built into the therapy process and how we are taught to help the folks we meet with.
- I’m by no means an expert on the dynamics going on behind this oppressive system. But the more I learn, the more I see the immensity of the issues.
- The whole system of therapy is built on a hierarchical dynamic. The therapist is set up to be the expert who has all the knowledge in order to help the client who is in need of help.
- This means that therapists hold a significant amount of power in the relationship. And the clients are quite vulnerable.
- This creates an “us vs. them” way of thinking.
- Of course, when a client is coming to us for assistance, it is hard to totally escape this dynamic.
- But, it has been emphasized, in the ways that I have been taught to be a therapist, that I should hold the power. Instead of acknowledging that I am also a human, and am capable of making mistakes.
- Yes, I am trained and equipped to help my clients but that is coming from the imperfect packaging of my human nature.
- I think some people who are burning out in the profession are somewhat jaded by this dynamic.
2) Working With High-Needs Clients Early On
- In my opinion, we have a very backwards way of approaching the trajectory of our entire career.
- I know this is not universally true for every single person. But, generally, this seems to happen for a lot of therapists.
- When we first start out in graduate school or the first years of training we tend to get handed the highest-need clients.
- Then over time most therapists often work with fewer and fewer high-need clients.
- This feels quite backwards to me. There is something about this system that is set up for therapists to feel burned out. This is creating a scenario in which a beginner is given the most challenging work. Then can work towards meeting with lesser-need clients as they grow in experience.
- Who wouldn’t get burned out in this kind of a model?
3) Low (or no) Pay, Especially Early On
- Most therapists receive really low pay, or no pay, early on in their career.
- And while it is normal, and expected, to get paid less at the beginning of any career, there is such a huge discrepancy between starting pay of trainees and newly licensed therapists and the income of more established therapists.
- When I think about my own experience. I worked for free during grad school with the highest-need clients while also paying tuition to get school credits for those practicum hours.
- Then, when I was first working as a post-doc trainee in a private practice setting I made $15 an hour. (This was in 2012 before inflation went buck wild)
- It’s hard to justify this low level of pay early on in our careers.
- It makes sense to me that therapists are not motivated to keep working for years for low levels of pay. Especially when they could pivot to another job and make a substantial amount more.
These are just a few initial musings about why I think so many therapists are burnt out. I think there are so many more reasons beyond the three I just listed.
But, I wanted to get your brain juices flowing on this issue. I often don’t hear people talking about some of the items I outlined above.
Please Hear Me: It’s Not You!
Above all else, the point that I am wanting to make is: that if you are feeling or determining that the therapy profession is not for you or are feeling completely burnt out, I want you to know that you did nothing wrong!
Burning out may have nothing to do with your abilities as a competent therapist. It doesn’t say anything about your character or your ability to be a kind, helpful, good person.
It might just be a reflection of the messy system that we are operating within.
So if you’re finding that you’re totally burning out on the therapy profession as a whole, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect. Instead of saying, “What is it about me that’s not working here?” ask yourself, “Is there anything in the system I’m in that may contribute to burnout?”
Hopefully this will free yourself from any narrative that says that somehow you failed or you’ve done something wrong.
Thinking Of Exiting The Profession?
If you are exploring options outside of meeting with clients in a therapy setting, I have an article that outlines 15 alternative career options that would still use your skills and training.
And until next time, from one therapist to another: I wish you well!