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Mental Health Burnout

Updated on February 16, 2008

What a great question. Someone has asked where mental health professionals go when they need help for themselves.

There is a myth that counselors are immune to human frailties, and they are above the fray. This myth might be harmless except there is a toll paid by the unwary for ignoring the symptoms.

It is interesting to note that studies report a very high number of people who enter the helping professions with resolved or unresolved issues from their childhood. It doesn't take a mind reader to figure out that some of these may try to unconsciously work out their conflicts while treating others. Often patients or clients are confused when a counselor becomes overly protective, angry or aggressive, over-identifies with the patient, shows anger and indignation, or has failed to maintain boundaries.

This can happen in the employing agency as cliques thrive, and peer modeling tends to swing toward the least healthy, needy, overworked but inefficient agency member. The costs are high. There is high employee turnover, eating disorders, substance abuse, internal squabbles, client dissatisfaction and premature exit without resolution. Counselors are late or often call in sick. The agency seems to move from crisis to crisis. There may be an overlay of depression, anger, or defeatism.

Organizations are somewhat like families in many ways. Many excellent qualities are brought to firms which are nurtured and brought out to the organization's best advantage. Many great leaders and therapists turn truly horrific childhoods into strengths and qualities that bring many accolades and recognition. Overcoming obstacles and striving is responsible for countless stories of success. Whatever the punishment endured in childhood, they keep their vow that they will "never be like that," when referring to tormentors.

But others, who lack the same traits or genes don't overcome. No matter the price, they are compelled to keep paying more. Sometimes, even with intervention, they don't get "it." The efforts of a caring teacher, pastor, or kindly neighbor are for naught. They may even laugh at benefactors. Often they are intelligent and use charm as a weapon to gain trust. They are expert at reading people and use every societal weakness to get what they want.

Sometimes they slip into the organizational system and cause havoc with co-workers and with clients who are unlucky enough to get the draw. Many managers are unable to confront defeating behaviors or allow the unofficial organization to handle the problems. In either case the outcome is disastrous. It is also organizational codependency.

Every year organizations are sued for overlooking employee misbehavior. Rather than confront a doctor or other professional they place the whole organization at risk by allowing the most outrageous behavior to continue. Some "treatment" not on the care plan can and does cause extraordinary payoffs, horrible publicity, and even closing down once respected facilities.

Healthy organizations, like healthy people, can adopt safeguards and standards that make functions operate smoothly and more productive, free of addictions and self -defeating- behaviors. Individuals' cannot reasonably expect to get needs for love inside the firm they are working for. Positive contributions should not only be recognized but encouraged. Studies show that the least effective managers are those that demand unquestioned, long hours and make unreasonable demands for loyalty and obedience.

In helping- agency, wary of codependency, honest and open communication is encouraged and thrives. Major individual problems are less likely to develop and interventions planned and carried out when they do.

Without bringing religion into the workplace, spirituality can still be a lively and viable undercurrent: Stressing values such as nurturing, caring, honesty, healthy lifestyle, and open interaction among caregivers can create a good environment for healing. Frequent in-services with presenters from the outside, as well as their feedback is encouraged.

Suicides in the helping professions are high. Substance abuse is a ready and enticing "solution" that takes its believers on a downhill slide. So is gambling. Eating has been an accepted substitute for dealing with problems. The Internet has created a whole new and wide ranging problem, for some.

Thankfully, these days there is much greater emphasis on taking care of the whole person, that is the mind, body, and spirit. Without recognizing the interaction and interdependence of the three, the entity is incomplete, take a three legged stool. Each leg is dependent on the other to function. Chop one off and the whole stool becomes less than what it was intended for.

It is difficult if not impossible for humans to function effectively on one level. An individual who functions only on making the body into something everyone is envious of doomed to failure. disease happens even to the most ardent of body-as-self promoters. So does old age interfere with that view.

We know how insufferable a convert to a religious belief can be. all their time and energy, speech and cultural values center in that one idea. People tend to hide from it or pretend they are not home when one calls. Was it Aristotle who said: " All things in Moderation" ?

The person focused on things of the mind can also be insufferably boring. Pale, coke-bottle glasses, and going about their business with head in the clouds, undoubtedly, e=Mc2 poses no challenge. They have no time for the commerce of men, with someone at home making sure they wear the same color socks. They are thinkers who develop a set of buffers around and become irate and confused when asked their name.

At the other end are pathological types who use others to pave the way for irresponsible and often illegal behavior. Seemingly without conscience, they start and end the day in chaos for themselves and all who are unlucky enough to cross their path. They are the users of societies scarce resources. Dragging unwitting and unwilling families and innocents along in the process, they begin an inexorable slide downward early in life.

From this core and others like it the seeds of codependency are sown. That wll be the subject of another paper. Lest you think that you are off the hook, "Perfect" and seemingly proper homes can hide some behavior patterns typically seen in codependent couples, groups, families, and organizations.


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    • glovs0 profile image


      7 years ago from Chicago Area

      When i found most of the page particularly helpful plus that helped with a number of concerns I actually had regarding mental health. I take pleasure in studying as well as improving my memory and thought process as well as found your info extremely beneficial. Check out

    • chicgurl profile image


      10 years ago

      Great article. You understand a lot about the mental health professional. You are very detailed and informative. Way to go! This is an intelligently written article.


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