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Professionals must take their own advice to avoid burnout

August 30, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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It’s probably safe to assume that most professionals have experienced burnout and work fatigue at least once in their career. Rawland “Rawly” Glass, Chief Clinical Officer at The Bridge to Recovery, says it’s important for people to understand what exactly burnout means.

He explains, “First of all, the term burnout is very general. It’s kind of this catchall phrase that says ‘I’m low on energy, I’m not sleeping well.’ It’s a term that’s so general that the thinking goes to ‘maybe I’m not satisfied with my job, my relationships, things are overwhelming.’”

A large part of burnout is “the internal dysregulation that goes on in response to the things that we’re involved with in our lives.” For example, many professionals in the addiction treatment community have jobs where they’re constantly exposed to awful stories and dynamics that have occurred in their client’s lives. If the professional has his own history or trauma that has yet to be resolved, his emotions and trauma may get triggered by the client’s story.

If a person has sufficient internal boundaries, it doesn’t hit the emotionally charged dynamics in his own nervous system and he is able to really attune to clients and to the work. Glass, who will be presenting on this topic during a session at September’s National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), says in most cases, people haven’t done the level of work needed to solve the issues, or perhaps they have done work in the past and now they need more.

He says it’s important for professionals to take retreats that get them out of the work environment, away from the hustle and bustle, and allow their nervous systems to resettle. This gives people the opportunity to look at trauma in a way that releases it, resolves it, and helps them to be less reactive to the intense work of the field.

It can even be something that is addressed in the workplace, such as having a three- or four-day retreat that focuses on trauma work once a year or a weekly get together to look at histories and give people the support they need. Deep breathing, meditation, and other self-regulation tools are great, Glass says, but if the trauma is still unresolved, then those simply help manage but don’t necessarily resolve the trauma.

“Most of the time people are coming to us in despair, having tried all kinds of other things to be OK, feel OK, form and develop rewarding rich relationships. They are asking for help. But being burned out and not doing our work compromises our ability to give our clients what they need. We in this profession – and especially those directly involved in delivering the services – absolutely must – learn to do our own work on a regular and consistent basis,” Glass says.

Taking a break to dig deeper

The Bridge recently launched a course that caters specifically to this population, the Accelerated Program for Behavioral Health Professionals.  Glass says while other treatment centers focus on primary drug treatment, dual-diagnosis or behavioral health problems, “Our specialty is really the trauma and codependency and that is all underlying all of the dysfunction that we have going on.”

This workshop spans one week and includes opportunities to talk about trauma histories in a way that helps release the trauma. “We’re working really hard to not tell the stories and re-traumatize ourselves again but allow us to work those through in a healthy, positive way. Narrative therapy in a healthy way helps us identify and let go of the trauma,” Glass explains.

Jenny Rodin, CNMI-I, signed up for the program initially to learn about the codependency program at The Bridge to refer other clients. However, she could have never imagined what she found over the course of the week. Currently in her eighth year of sobriety, she says she periodically falls back into bouts of depression and she was experiencing one at the time of this program. Through the work done at The Bridge, she was able to discover that the depression had been caused by shame she had been carrying around from childhood as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

“I thought I had resolved that stuff in my therapeutic work but it turned out that I hadn’t. I was still carrying this self-loathing and shame and it was killing me,” Rodin explains.

As an interventionist, and someone who has much personal experience and knowledge of therapy, 12-Step programs, and recovery, Rodin says that the program went to a deeper level than she knew existed. There was “inner child” and cathartic work in the program, but the intensity was much different from what any of the participants had experienced before.

For Rodin, the program’s benefits didn’t end after the week was over. “They gave me these amazing tools to not just let go of the shame but to also be able to identify where it’s coming from and know what to do if I feel it again,” she says. “When I left the program I felt that the missing piece of my recovery had been identified and I now know that I never have to fall back into that paralyzing depression. I have something I can do now.”

Sharon Weber, co-founder of Recovery Grads (Marina Del Rey, Calif.), participated in the weeklong program and says that the “life-changing” experience helped her to recognize the shame she had been carrying around as well. “One of my epiphanies was realizing that by carrying around that shame, and having internalized it for so many years, it was really getting in the way of my ability to have a quality, intimate relationship. That was huge for me – the ability to break through that shame and basically unload it and give it back,” she explains.