Let me begin by giving you a clear definition of what burnout is? *Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout can reduce your productivity and sap your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful (the operative word is "could" it doesn't necessarily mean it gets to that point for all who are effected by the various stages of burnout). Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give. Now that we are clear on that, there should be no mistaking of why self-care is so vital, and particularly in the field of helping others change for the better. *Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A. January 2012
My story is unique (perhaps similar to many) in that my eventual road towards burnout, and the decrease in my own self-care needs was not the magnitude of my cases, the population(s) I was serving, or the overload of work. The contributing factors in my case were systemic ones, culture, role identity, and what others role expectations were, let me explain. My history in the field of social work was working in two non social work systems (Juvenile Justice- Detention/Field Services & Secondary Education) where the lens and school of thought was: Law Enforcement and Education. Although the systems both had components that were in place to provide support for the psychosocial needs of the populations (i.e. probationers & students) they were serving, the focus was not social work, social service oriented, or from a Bio, Psycho, Social, and Risk perspective. Therefore, I was always operating against the grain and for the most part (not always there were a few objective and informed colleagues) when I would try to speak to my knowledge base, skill set, advocacy etc., the eyes often went distant, and the defense was on. In the school system many of my job responsibilities and duties were not empowering me as a social worker, and if anything decreasing my engagement and motivation. My roles were often looked upon and directed towards me as: punitive, disciplinarian, authoritarian. Well, those roles are the complete opposite of what a social worker is, and most importantly not the role or identity that I subscribe to. There were times where I was able to find the balance and use my social work skills effectively and purposefully, but more then not I felt like I was running a race, just about to finish, I could see the the finish line, but someone was always holding me by my waistband, I could never get across that line...
This story is not complete, not yet. Now you throw in the culture that was front and center at some of the working environments that I was immersed into. Apathy, contagion, survival mode, systemic stress due to layoffs and cuts, ineffective policy, lack of resources and support (the right kind), and so forth. So, add these forces to what I shared above and there you have it, my emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion was influenced by heightened levels of stress that I was taking on, it was speaking to me loud and clear! I had been suppressing for a long time, hoping there would be a better day, it never came. It was time to make some serious and significant changes in my professional and personal worlds, and I am pleased to inform that I did! When I speak about the importance of self care, and what can attribute to burnout, and the affects and effects of, I am truly speaking from an experiential place. Therefore, let it be known if not otherwise heard, I only want to help and support my fellow professionals. I hope this insight is helpful to those that can hear me, please don't hesitate to reach out if and when. Until then, keep your head up and heart open and you will walk through this world in a much healthier way!
"Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable."
~ Denis Waitley
Daniel Jacob, MSW Email
Founder of Can You Hear Me? External Field Instructor at University of Southern California School of Social Work MSW@USC. Daniel has a Masters in Social Work (Families and Children Practice/School Social Work). He is currently nearing the completion of the LCSW testing process. More about the man behind the mission ⇢