Burnout is one of the most ubiquitous experiences for helpers and healers in modern workplace. One of the consequences of burnout is feeling emotionally exhausted, which challenges caregiving professionals to maintain resiliency over the span of their vocation. It disconnects us from our meaning and purpose in our work.

When we feel as if our purpose is stymied, we can give up and even leave our profession for good. Yet for many of us, we stay, despite feeling overwhelmed with years of fighting inequities or oppressive practices. We stay because we feel connected to the actual healing work. We stay because we have a sense of call.

As a burnout therapist and consultant, I see healers every day stay “despite.” Despite heavy and insurmountable caseloads. Despite hours on the phone with insurance companies. Despite secondary trauma and vicarious stress. Despite the financial strain of educational loans. The system is broken–burnout is simply a symptom of this.

Systems of oppression rely on workers engaging with helplessness. The oppressive practices of chronically low pay, overwork, and undercare continue in part because perhaps our voices haven’t been heard or that we don’t trust they ever would be. They continue because we feel stuck.

The cycle persists when work cultures gaslight their counselors, offering “burnout care” such as a staff retreat or coupon for a free massage. These have not proven to be at all beneficial for long-term burnout, and in fact may cause more harm because they imply it’s the individual’s fault that they’re burned out—just take off the time, just do this retreat, and you’ll feel better.

The thing is, while burnout is systemic, no one can claim our meaning and purpose in our work. No one can take away that sense of call. In my work with helping professionals, this is the #1 reason folks stay despite burnout. It’s also the #1 thing that can be fostered with nourishing practices to fortify and strengthen resiliency. While a multitude of factors contribute to burnout, we can nourish ourselves so our burnout is reduced.

Meaning and purpose can be reclaimed, even within systems that seemingly don’t have our best interest in mind. When you have a healer or helper spirit, it will be there despite what conditions surround you. The opportunity then is to step back first to take stock of where your caregiving soul is protected as sacred.

When faced with stressors beyond our control, we feel helpless to enact change. It can feel like boundaries don’t matter because the results are the same: heavy caseloads, little time off, insurance pressures, and so much more. Boundary hygiene is the place I see the greatest neglect among the burned-out clients I work with. Noticing places where we can use our sacred “no” can help us begin to reclaim our sense of agency in our work.

Self-compassion is the root of this posture. By defining ourselves as worthy, despite how challenging work environments can be, we reclaim our agency. This looks like acknowledging the resourcing you do have–where do you feel most safe and secure? Who in your circle is supportive and non-judgmenetal? Who understands the pressures you’re under? When we are struggling, we deserve support and to be seen and heard.

I have found that even the simplest of self-care practices includes a self-protection posture of compassionate inquiry. This fortifies our sense of autonomy when we feel overwhelmed by forces outside of our control. This is a guided meditation to visualize securing our energetic and emotionally boundaried self. It assists us to remain diligent in our boundary hygiene.

Those who are connected to the vocational spirit of caregiving have natural affinity to generosity of time and energy. We often need to sit back objectively and take an audit of our energy and time boundaries. That is often a long, hard look–some of us have been understandably looking away at places in our lives where our energy is not needed or used in a way that is fruitful. We numb out, we engage in relationships that aren’t reciprocal, we distract ourselves. It often takes accountability and support to take action in this way, but, when we feel as if we have agency in protecting these personal needs, we begin to put our needs first.

When we’re burned out, we often lose our creative spark. Take a note from Julia Cameron’s book and “take yourself out on an artist’s date.” Do something enjoyable for enjoyable sake. Play and notice the clouds, pick dandelions or go to an open mic night. Where creativity is, awe and wonder can flourish–counteractive agents to burnout.

Advocacy work is also an important part of reclaiming our call. Advocating for improved conditions doesn’t need to be complex. I find that counselors who advocate on behalf of the profession on some level feel more connected to the meaning of their work. Speaking our truth to power can look like advocacy work on a big or small stage—even questioning a rule or guideline that impacts your ability to do your job thoroughly or with ease. It can look like strengthening your “sacred no” and fortifying yourself against pushback due to toxic martyrdom norms.

We can reflect as well on where our call came from in the first place–and access that deepest “yes” in our life. If it feels safe and invitational, this can look like getting out photos of yourself as a child and remember when you felt free and joyous. What were the conditions of those situations–was it outside, was it with others, was it engaged in art or music? This practice helps us to remember what it is to know ourselves anew, from fresh and curious eyes, and perhaps bring into this day some of what makes those memories poignant to fuel your energy even in a small way.

As we explore how we can reconnect our soul to our work, we navigate meaning-making anew and reclaim our connection to the inner power centers we’ve neglected or dismissed.

We all have agency, even when we are feeling overwhelmed or hopeless in burnout. Oppressive practices that contribute to our broken mental health system are not going to be fixed overnight. Mental health providers need a safe and healthy workplace to flourish in their wholeness. And while, yes, the system is a wider problem, if we are to do the work we are meant to do in the world to serve, we must serve ourselves first with the value and compassion we deserve.

Allie Kochert, MA, LPC, CSD

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About the Author: Allie Kochert
Allie Kochert, MA, LPC, CSD is a burnout and resiliency expert and holds space for others to grow into their authenticity and soul's purpose. As a licensed psychotherapist, spiritual director, educator, and consultant, she holds multiple certifications and two decades' experience supporting folks on the healing journey. She specializes in supporting holistic and embodied mind-body-soul support for helpers, healers, and women+ in spiritual vocations. You can find her at www.rootgrowthrive.com.

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