There is no way to run away from it. Our job is a very difficult job. The job of a helping or what I like to refer to as a healing professional is a very, very difficult job. We sit with clients in their darkest hour in their deepest pain, and oftentimes it impacts us. And, and we have this thing in our field known as compassion fatigue, and the most common way that people deal with compassion fatigue is doing what they call self care. And you know, I’ve got tons of psychotherapy friends, and I’m connected to a bunch of people on social media and you see them all the time, like this weekend is self care weekend and I’m like taking a trip to Jamaica because I’m so fatigued from doing the job of psychotherapist.
And to be honest with you, I’ve never really understood that, like, who gives a shit if you go to Jamaica for the weekend, if you got to come back to a job that is causing you fatigue. There’s actually a way that we can do this job so that it does not produce compassion fatigue. And I want to share with you three things that I think will make the biggest difference in how we experienced that.
The first one is, if you’re doing your work in a way that is producing compassion fatigue, then I want you to change the way you do your work. For example, when I first came into this field, I was originally trained to do something called cognitive behavioral therapy. Now I’m not here to knock cognitive behavioral therapy. I not saying anything bad about it?
But I am saying that focused on a problem to that degree was something that was causing me, compassion fatigue. And I knew there was no way, I was about 27 when I started in this field, and I knew there was no way I could be in this field for 40 years working like this. And thank God I found something called Solution Focused Brief Therapy, which was much more in line with how I wanted to be as a psychotherapist. It was much more in line with the person I wanted to be. And I immediately knew this is something I could do with energy and enthusiasm for the rest of my career. One of my favorite quotes is ‘Nothing great can be done without enthusiasm’. So think about that in our work as psychotherapist.
If you are burnt out and you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, what are the chances that you’re going to be able to be enthusiastic enough to produce great outcomes with your client? So I think we have a responsibility to do our work in a way that does not contribute to us feeling burnt out and compassion fatigue. So the first tip I have for you to be able to do that is to do the work in a way that’s in line with you. So you actually produce energy, passion, and enthusiasm instead of burnout.
The second thing that I think is really important is it is okay to change your environment. You know, I’ve worked at jobs where I had bosses that like absolutely made me miserable. The very first job I had in this field, I had this woman that was a boss of mine, and she was like, every nightmare you could think of as a boss, like she was a micromanager. She would discipline the team for no reason. She was a power monger. I remember one day I walked into the office and she said, come here. And she literally suspended me for like no reason. And it was so unhealthy. I knew I cannot continue working here.
So I worked there for about seven, eight months and I applied for a new job and I got the new job and it was so funny because they put my office right next to my bosses office at this new job. And I only had that experience of that first boss. And I was miserable that I was next to my bosses office. And on the first Friday that I was in the office next to my boss, I’m super nervous because I know I’m going to get in trouble. And my experience with bosses, weren’t great. And this boss called my name. She said, Elliott, can you come to my office real quick? And I said, sure.
And I walked into her office and she proceeded to shoot me with a super soaker and just died laughing. And I thought, wow, like the environment difference is really impactful to how I experienced my job. So if you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, there might not be anything wrong with what you’re doing or how you’re doing it, and to whom you’re doing it. There might be an issue with where you’re doing it and it’s perfectly okay to change your environment.
And the third thing I would tell you is it’s very important that we have hobbies. Our job is so important. And the work that we do is so deep and connected to our clients that I think sometimes we become all encompassed with the work that we do. And you know, when you were a kid, you played video games, you took walks, you played board games, you read novels. And then you went to graduate school and all you read was psychotherapy books.
You didn’t have time for walks or video games anymore. And it’s so important that you participate in the types of hobbies that cause your brain to disconnect. And look, I know that some of us, right, we’ve got kids and jobs and mortgage to pay and all these things. And we don’t have time anymore to dedicate to playing video games all day, but you can still play video games like 20 minutes a day. You can still sit on the couch quietly, read that book like 20 minutes a day. And it’s really important that you stay connected to the parts of you that were vibrant as a child, because they’re still in there.
Now I’m 45 years old and I still play a PlayStation. Now it’s PlayStation 5 instead of like an Atari when I was a kid, but I still play video games because it’s part of who I am. It’s part of what makes me feel alive. It’s part of what makes me feel vibrant. Don’t allow the important jobs that we have to kill the childlike part of you that is alive and vibrant. You need that part of you to be able to be a successful clinician.
So if you do these three things, I can almost guarantee you, you will experience significant less burnout and significantly less compassion fatigue.