The Management of Burnout

Burnout is best prevented, but still treatable.

In the previous post The Nature of Burnout — Part 2, I indicated that burnout is the predictable long-term outcome resulting from over-functioning in the third limb of emotional triangles. To describe the management of burnout thus is quite simple:

  • Stop the over-functioning
  • Operate from the principle of: High intention; Low attachment

However to do this requires that the individual has resolved his or her personal difficulties, those difficulties that pull the individual into the third limb of the triangle. As a therapist, I had ongoing opportunity to explore this process; I used to tell people that I was being paid to do my own personal growth.

Therapy is a complex process. It is a relationship between two people wherein they explore the personal pain of the “client,” with the therapist as the “resource.” But all clients come with the hidden agenda that the therapist will fix the issue with which the client is struggling. (The long-term clients would say that the client was responsible for the issue, but the hidden agenda was still “fix me.”) And while doing so “fixing,” the client will do his or her best to resist and/or sabotage the therapist. Furthermore, it is relatively easy for the therapist to get caught in this agenda, especially if the therapist is invested in the issue. Sounds complicated, right? Yah!

therapy1As the therapist, my attitude was essentially that I was there both to support the client and, more importantly, to challenge the client — to create an experience wherein the client had the opportunity to experience the internal conflict associated with the issue. I was not especially interested in talking about the issue, as compared with creating a dynamic which frustrated the client, while at the same time, doing so in an environment of safety. Thus, for me, I treated the third limb (client and issue) as a guitar string. My job was to tweak the guitar string, and make a sound. What the client did with the sound was of little interest to me — that was the responsibility of the client.

I used to tell people that I had three rules when working with them:

  1. I would do no more than 50% of the work (occasionally more, but not reliably so),
  2. if at all possible we would have fun (people learn better when they are having fun), and
  3. if anyone was to be frustrated, guess who (because it was not going to be me).

In so functioning, I had high intention (to assist the client), but no attachment that I would do so — I was response-able for my own integrity, but I was not accountable for the client’s outcomes or life.

The management of burnout requires the following:

  • acceptance of authentic powerlessness
    • I must be clear as to that for which I am responsible, am accountable, and have authority
      • I must be aware and watchful of the enticement to be accountable for the larger system
    • having an appropriate vision of what is my role in a given system
      • my focus must be on my own integrity, even though my contribution may be to the greater good of the system
        • I must be able to congratulate myself for having achieved the outcomes I want, even though nothing happens within the larger system
      • I must provide myself with significant self-care — so that I do not rely entirely on the larger system to provide reward to me
        • this means that I manage my own emotional energy, especially when the system is not functioning effectively
          • if I am angry or frustrated, this means I am invested in the third limb! Clarity is needed, not passion
        • other aspects to which I can attend include:
          • write a lot in a journal, even if just scribbling (writing discharges energy more effectively than typing on a screen)
          • do anything small that makes a difference
          • find a supportive community, one focused on authenticity

There are other things I can do, but for me, these are the basics.

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