Preventing Burnout While Working in Treatment


Mental health care providers often find it difficult to stave off burnout. It’s not just clinicians, either. Simply being involved in treatment can take a toll on your mental health. According to SAMHSA, in substance abuse treatment alone, turnover can be as high as 50% for staff and 32% for counselors.

In a profession filled with caring individuals, turnover rates are often rooted in a lack of boundaries. As treatment providers, we get emotionally involved in the health and happiness of our clients. Unfortunately for our careers, allowing this dependence is a threat to career longevity. Thankfully, there are ways to combat burnout and keep yourself fresh for your work.

4 Examples of Setting Boundaries Between You and Your Work

Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you will care less about your work or your clients. It means you’ll have the mental and emotional resources to care for them better. When you give yourself more, you’ll have more to offer.

Here are some examples of boundaries that can keep your resources within you:

#1 Limit “Work-talk” While at Home

Though it’s important to vent your frustrations to family or friends, it can’t become a dwelling place for your thoughts and emotions. Plan to only talk for 15 or 20 minutes about what’s worrying you with a loved one, and then move on. There’s nothing you can do while you’re away from the office, so focus on non-work-related activities while you’re at home.

#2 Do Not Check Your Work Email or Phone if You’re not On-call

Keep your work phone turned off and in your coat pocket for tomorrow. Don’t go near it. Don’t even look at it. If you feel like you’re about to compulsively check your email, distract yourself with other positive activities.

#3 When you Feel Burnout Coming on, Take a Mental Health Day

You’re on a plane, and the oxygen masks have fallen. You know what to do. Put it on yourself first. Take care of yourself first. On mental health days, it’s imperative to keep work off of your mind. What you feel like doing, do. Don’t get stuck wondering how best to spend your time. Just spend it in the moment, refueling yourself.

#4 Exercise, Eat Healthy and Sleep Well

A healthy body is essential to a healthy mind. Built-up stress has to come out somehow, and getting it out on a walk or at the gym is much better than having it come out with a breakdown. Fuel yourself with good food that won’t slow you down, and give your brain the rest it needs to come to work refreshed.

While boundaries can go a long way to preventing burnout, maintenance and repair will be needed along the way. Self-care is your maintenance and repair toolkit, and it’s just as important as your work in helping you change lives.

3 Examples of Self Care

Whether you’re working the desk at a treatment facility, leading a group, or providing counseling, your job takes. Give back to yourself with self-care using some of these techniques and examples: 

#1 Refill Your Social Energy Bank

Introversion and extroversion are real factors in your energy reservoirs. It’s imperative with both to get your energy back doing what you love. Read a book, watch Netflix, hang out with your dog or cat, do what you love to do until you feel whole again. Extroverts, you need your friends. Plan regular social outings that will refresh you. Group hikes, double dates, and bowling are great group activities to get your energy back. 

#2 Get Your Life in Order

Stress often originates from chaos. It can be meditative and relaxing to have your affairs in smooth working order. Take the time to balance your checkbook, get your kitchen clean, or mow the lawn to whittle down your list of anxieties. Instead of procrastinating on those everyday life things, get them done so you can enjoy your free time without shame and regret.

#3 Take a Breath of Fresh Air

Busyness often leads to staying in the house in your off time. In a study published by Front Psychiatry, sunlight, fresh air, and the earth itself improve mood and positivity for mental health. Cureus published a study showing that fluorescent light can worsen anxiety. The solution is clear. Get outside. Breath deeply and purposefully, and let the stress leave with each exhale.

Takeaways for Mental Health Professionals

Working in the mental health field is rewarding but exhausting. If you love your work and want to continue to love it, it’s essential to set boundaries and take care of yourself just as much as you take care of others.

It takes practice to relax and look after yourself effectively. Remember to be patient with yourself when your brain fights back and tells you to be productive. Productivity does not equal self-worth or value, just as your job doesn’t equal self-worth or value.

Compassionate professionals like you deserve to feel fresh, emotionally full, and healthy. To prevent burnout, keep your work at work by focusing on your other passions. Distance yourself from your phone and email from time to time, and take proactive steps towards physical and mental health. When preventative measures don’t do the trick, practice self-care by staying on top of your social energy meter, keeping your home life stress-free, and getting outdoors. Prevent, maintain, and repair, and you can go to work refreshed and ready to help. With everything that you do, you may be wondering who looks out for you. When you need someone to help you learn boundaries and critical coping mechanisms for stress and depression, Casa Recovery can help. Mental health professionals need to stay healthy to be effective. If you or someone you love needs help maintaining or repairing your mental health, call (888) 928-2272 to talk to someone who understands.

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