001 My Story

October 2, 2023
Joy After Burnout Podcast Cover Art

If you’re a therapist feeling burned out or considering leaving the profession?   I want to share with you my story on the “Finding Joy After Burnout” podcast. I’ve been passionate about burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and working with therapists from the start of my career, even though I didn’t realize it until recently. The pandemic was a culmination of burnout and vicarious trauma for me, and it made me want to help other therapists avoid the same situation.

As a therapist myself, I understand the toll that the work can take on one’s mental and emotional health. The pressures of the job, coupled with the stress of everyday life, can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and even vicarious trauma. It’s a tough road to navigate, and many therapists struggle with finding the support they need to continue doing the work they love.

In this podcast episode, I share my personal experiences with burnout and how I overcame it. I’ve been in your shoes, and I understand how challenging it can be to find the right path forward. Whether you’re just starting your career or have been in the field for years, my story can help you find the support and resources you need to overcome burnout and continue doing the work you love.

By listening to this podcast, you’ll learn practical strategies to help you manage burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. You’ll hear about the importance of self-care, setting boundaries, and finding support. I’ll also discuss how to recognize the signs of burnout and what steps you can take to prevent it.

If you’re considering leaving the profession because of burnout, I urge you to listen to this podcast before making any decisions. Burnout is a serious issue, and it’s not something you should ignore. With the right support and resources, you can overcome burnout and find joy in your work again. I’m living proof of that.

So, join me on the “Finding Joy After Burnout” podcast, and let’s work together to find a way to continue doing the work we love without sacrificing our mental and emotional well-being. 

Hi there! This is Dr. Jen Blanchette, and I’m excited to share with you my story in the first episode of the Finding Joy After Burnout podcast. I’ve been passionate about burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and working with therapists from the start of my career, even though I didn’t realize it until recently. The pandemic was a culmination of burnout and vicarious trauma for me, and it made me want to help other therapists avoid the same situation.

Let me give you a bit of background on myself. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Old Dominion University, and after my second master’s, I worked in experimental psychology, focusing on substance misuse. Then, I decided I wanted to do therapy, so I started a clinical psychology doctoral program and graduated from Regent University’s APA-accredited psychology program.

From a burnout perspective, I first noticed it in my work as a caseworker. I worked as a residential counselor and a therapeutic foster care caseworker between all those degrees, trying to find my way and figure out what I wanted to do. If you’re a caseworker, you know how stressful and underpaid it can be. It was my first experience with vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, and I realized that I didn’t take care of myself. I just kept going, thinking I had to do the job, but I wasn’t prepared for the responsibilities that came with it.

I remember a moment when my dad had a retirement party with the government, and my casework supervisor told me that I couldn’t go because of a meeting with a particular child that I had. Of course, it was important, but it was also important to me to attend my dad’s retirement party. I caved into the pressure, and I regretted that choice. I don’t think I should have been in the position to be asked to make that choice. That experience made me realize that there should have been supports for me and that I should have had permission to attend events that were important to me.

After working in that role for about a year and a half, I couldn’t do it anymore. I decided not to work with children, thinking that would solve the problem. But now, I’m starting to work with children again, and I want to help other therapists avoid burnout and vicarious trauma by getting the support they need.

So, after finishing my degree program, I had to do a one-year internship as part of the requirement to become a licensed psychologist. The pay was very low, probably minimum wage, but the work was intense. I was working at a mental health agency, and I had chosen to work ten-hour days instead of the usual eight-hour days. Unfortunately, the environment was not very supportive, and there was a particular person in charge who seemed to have it out for me that year. I felt targeted and bullied, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish my internship or get my doctoral degree. Despite the resources and supervision available to me, I didn’t feel seen, heard, or valued as a team member. That experience led to burnout, and I felt like I had to be perfect and say the right things to avoid being targeted again in future workplaces.  

As a psychologist who worked with brain injury patients and in private practice, I decided to start my own private practice when I had my first child. I didn’t want to go back to work at an agency and wanted the flexibility to be with my child as much as possible. Initially, building my own group practice seemed like the perfect solution because I wanted to work with other therapists and collaborate, but I found it difficult to find therapists with similar interests.

When the pandemic hit, I was alone in my office, and while it was good in some ways, it was also isolating. I began to feel trapped in my private practice and started to dread going into the office. I experienced panic attacks while driving, and the loss of a few clients affected me deeply.

In fall 2020, I realized that I had to do something different and started to untangle the web I was in. Ultimately, I made the tough decision to close my private practice as it became unsustainable for me. It was a difficult decision, but I knew that I needed to prioritize my well-being and take care of myself.

Speaker A: Hi and welcome to the first episode of the Finding Joy After Burnout podcast. I’m excited today because I’m sharing with you my excitement for this area. I think that I’ve been passionate about burnout and compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and working with therapists probably from the start of my career. I think I just didn’t realize that this is the work that I wanted to do until recently, until my own kind of culmination of burnout with the pandemic. Because if you weren’t going to be burnout before the pandemic, it’s going to happen during the pandemic. In my perspective, that’s a joke, maybe a bad joke, but for myself, I can speak for myself that I did struggle with burnout and vicarious trauma in the pandemic. So that’s kind of the reason why that I want to help other therapists not be in the same place that I was in. But I don’t know if that’s even possible because I feel like we can avoid trauma as therapists. We don’t know what material that our clients bring into session that’s going to traumatize us, but we can hopefully get those supports that we need to be able to pivot from it to be able to figure out what resources we might need. So I’ll back up a little background into maybe my training and myself. So my name is Dr. Jen Blanche. I’m a licensed psychologist by training, and I started out going to El Dominion University and got my Bachelor’s in psychology. And I really kind of wandered around through my education, maybe a professional student, so to speak. From that point, I decided I wanted to do therapy. After my second master’s, I worked in experimental psychology, focusing on substance misuse. After that point, I started a clinical psychology doctoral program and graduated from Regent University’s APA accredited psychology program. So that’s long winded. At any rate, that’s a little background into my history from a burnout perspective, I think I really noticed it in my work as a caseworker. So in the background, between all those degrees and all that stuff I was doing, trying to find my way, figure out what I wanted to do, I worked as a residential counselor. I also worked in therapeutic foster care as a case worker. And if anyone who’s a case worker, I’m going to put caseworker in the case in the description on this because they need support. Social workers need support. Case workers need support. They are some of the highest stressed, underpaid jobs that we have in our country, and we need more support for case workers. So that was my first experience with vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout. And I would say more compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma in that role particularly. So I was working as a therapeutic case worker, and I didn’t realize that all of a sudden I’m responsible for this child that is in my care. People call me for medical things. People call me from the court and at the ripe old age of 24, I think I was a little ill prepared, honestly. I don’t know if anyone can be prepared for a role like that. Kind of like being prepared for a role of parenthood, but then adding on the layer of this child hasn’t had appropriate care. They have probably had abuse, neglect, a litany of other things that have happened in their life. And and what I what I figured out, what I noticed was I didn’t take care of myself. I just thought I had to keep going, that I had to just do this job. And I remember a moment where my dad had a retirement party with the government. My dad worked for I’m from the DC metro area, and he worked for the International Trade Commission for, I don’t know, 30 plus years. Who knows? I should call him and ask him, how many years did you work for the International Trade Commission? He could tell me. So he had a retirement party, and my casework supervisor told me, you can’t kind I forgot what the meeting that I had was on this particular kiddo. And of course it was important. I knew it was important that I, as a case worker, be there. But it was also important to me that I attend this retirement party of my dad’s. And I kind of caved into that pressure. And there was definitely pressures on me to be there for that child, of course. But there was also supports that should have supported me, and knowing that if I had something that I really wanted to attend, like a retirement party or a wedding or a funeral for heaven forbid, that I didn’t feel like I had permission to go to something like that. I didn’t have permission to do that. And I remember just really regretting that choice that I made that was even asked to make that choice. I don’t think that I should have been in the position to be asked to make that choice. So at any rate, that was kind of my first experience. I probably worked in that role maybe for a year and a half, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. And I didn’t work with children until actually now where I’m working, starting to work with children again. So from that experience was like, I don’t work with children. I take it home, I can’t do that. And I thought it was good. I was like, okay, well, I just can’t work with kids, and if I don’t work with kids, then I’ll be fine. Okay? So I kind of continue schooling. Things were kind of going well there, and I get to internship. So if you’re not a psychologist, psychologists have to do one year post their degree program of working at a very low salary, by the way, probably like minimum wage for an entire year. Doing very intense work. We do intense work as therapists. So I was working at an agency, mental health agency, and I had ten hour days. I think I chose to work tens. You could work, like, 410 hours days instead of, like, five eight hour days. And so me and my infinite wisdom thought that was a great idea. I just didn’t want to be there the other day. And that was a situation where the environment, I felt like, really wasn’t very supportive of me. So there was a particular person who was over the clinic who had it out for me that year. In my opinion, someone could have seen it differently, but from my perspective, they kind of targeted the intern, and I was the person that year that was targeted. And I really felt that I may not get my doctoral degree, I may not finish this internship. And that environment felt so invalidating, and I felt like, here I am. Yes, I’m given supervision. I am giving a lot of resources from that agency to support me in my work, but I also didn’t feel seen. I didn’t feel heard, I didn’t feel valued as a team member. And for some reason, that person just had it out for me that year. So that was another piece of burnout where I felt like I just kind of had to put my head down. And I always told myself, you can do anything for a year. That is, until you can’t until your body kind of gives up. But I got through that year, and I really thought about how that experience at that job made me kind of at my postdoc, made me feel like I kind of need to be perfect. I need to do everything right. I need to say the right things so I don’t get targeted again in the workplace, because I really felt bullied by that person. So fast forward a little bit. So I did my training at a NeuroRehab program. It was a great experience, a really healing experience. I felt in a lot of ways, I got some really great training. I really enjoyed working with the TBI and brain injury population, so I did that work, and then I would probably have stayed there, I don’t know. But I did another agency work for a while, and then I had my first child and completely stopped working for six months. So I’m telling my whole life story here, apparently. So my son had heart surgery five days after he was born, and I just did not feel like I could go back to work at that point. And that heart baby will be ten this year, so it’s been quite a while, but I just couldn’t leave them. I don’t know. I couldn’t do it. And man, it was rough. It was rough for me to go through that. But I decided, okay, so I can’t go back to work at an agency. What are my other options as a psychologist? And I really came up with, okay, I guess I have to start a private practice. And so I started my own private practice, which was roughly, I guess, what’s going on ten years now, probably, that I started my private practice that I’m about to close. So I started my private practice, and of course, I was like, I guess I have to figure it all out myself. Like, figure out WordPress, figure out how do you get clients? And it was really a slog. I mean, it was really tough. And I have a newborn baby that I’m trying to do this and launch a private practice with. And I did it. It wasn’t pretty, but I started working in private practice, and I think it sustained me in some ways. It was helpful for that time. It wasn’t necessarily financially profitable at all times, but I was trying to figure out how to do a lot of things, be an entrepreneur. And it’s funny because I always told myself I would never have my own private practice because I didn’t want to deal with all that stuff. And then I think it was scarcity. Like, I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. So I felt like that was the choice that I had to make. But now, looking back on that, was that the right choice? For the moment? I’m not sure I can’t go back ten years and tell myself who I was scrambling and try to do something that that wasn’t the right choice. That’s what I did. I kind of wanted to make a group practice. I wanted to kind of work with other therapists, but I found it really hard. Other therapists seemed to be happy in their little private practices, doing their own thing. I didn’t find a lot of people that wanted to kind of maybe build something together, and that was always my desire to build something together with other therapists, to collaborate. I just didn’t want to sit in the office all day. I just wanted to do something more. And so I think I kind of struggled a little bit with that, with finding people that might have a similar interest as me. And so I kind of moved offices, had different office mates, and when the pandemic hit, I was in the office alone. And in some ways, that was a good thing, because I had my kids at home the whole time, and they were pretty active, and I needed quiet. It was great to have some quiet, but it was also pretty lonely, pretty isolating. And as many of you might remember yourself during that phase, it felt like you were holding your clients up through all of that. At least I did. I felt like I had to kind of hold things up for them, tell them a hopeful, like, I don’t know, I think it’s going to get better, or it was just such a weird time. And honestly, I think I got to the point where I just felt trapped in private practice. I felt like in some ways, in other ways not. But I got to the point where it just became unsustainable for me. I dreaded going into the office. I didn’t dread my clients necessarily. It’s just that role I didn’t feel like I could do with also taking care of young kids at home, with managing the pandemic myself. And ultimately, I developed panic attacks while driving. I feel like my mental health usually comes out in my body, so my body pretty much gave out before I was like, I’m really done with this. So I started the process of trying to untangle that web, which I guess was if I’m thinking that started probably the fall of 2020, when we kind of had that realization that this isn’t going away, this isn’t like a few weeks, a few months, it’s going to be years. And when I think I had that realization that things weren’t changing and I had to figure something out, that I had to do something different, that I started unraveling in some ways. And so I think the mental health components hit me hard. I also had a couple of clients die in the pandemic, and that hit me harder than I ever thought it would. I’ll say that they weren’t deaths related to COVID, and they weren’t suicides. So I think there’s another layer. There’s other layers. I think when therapists have had clients who had death by suicide, but I just wanted to give that caveat and that perspective. But still, that was a client that I was very close to, two clients I was very close to, actually one of those clients. I think the circumstances right when COVID hit, it was like I saw them maybe one or two weeks, and it was a client I saw weekly for years, and I saw them maybe one or two weeks. I had a patchy, like one of those first telehealth sessions where we’re just trying to figure out the zoom thing had one of those patchy sessions, and then they passed away, and I had to do a lot of work around that. And I think it really had me reeling in my role as a therapist and how this role can affect deep parts of me that I didn’t know that they could affect. And of course, I know that internally and cognitively, but until when you feel that and when you’re taking it home with you and it’s affecting your family, it’s affecting your life in different ways, that’s different. So what did I do to try to change something? I might have changed my website. I don’t know how many times. I just remember, like, going on vacation, I’m changing web copy. I’m trying to figure out how I can make this work. I thought initially going off of some insurance panels would be helpful. I launched some intensives, and I did like some of that intensive work. However, I think I needed to maybe think about an intensive based practice that would have probably if I was just doing that, that would have been different. And I still think about that. I’m like, maybe I could just do intensives, that could be interesting and not do more ongoing work. But at the time, I don’t think I was ready for it. So I changed a bunch of things, tried a bunch of things. And the thing with me going off insurance panels was because I think, number one, one of the insurance panels I was on stopped paying me, and I was like, this is dysfunctional. I need to get paid. I can’t deal with this. So that was one of the backstories, I think, to that piece of it. I think we don’t understand the administrative toll that doing all the business related things in a therapy practice does, how much energy that takes up. So I’m talking about like, when insurance companies don’t pay us and we have to fight for that money, we have to call the insurance company. And I just remember in the middle of the pandemic crying after a call with an insurance company that I’ve been trying to get money from and just feeling defeated, utterly defeated. And I just knew I had to do something different. I tried to just go UnPanel from everything and see if that would work for me. And ultimately, I think I needed a break, and I’m kind of at the culmination of that. So this has been a process I started two years ago, nearly two years ago, and I am going to have my last therapy session with clients in my practice at the end of this month. And that feels actually really spacious to me. It feels like a good change for me. So an opportunity fell into my lap where I could do evaluations as a psychologist again at a local school district, and I think it really has been working out for me. And the first thing I said actually, when I got this position was like, oh, I don’t have to do therapy anymore. And that was a big realization to me that I needed a break. And parts of my mind is already thinking about coming back to therapy, but right now, for today, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be taking a break from therapy. But when I initially I remember this in a therapy session with my therapist, said, I don’t know if I want to be a therapist anymore. I was there was a lot of shame with that. I was upset, of course, but yeah, it was just hard. It was a hard realization to have to come to. And I think there’s so many layers with that. If you’ve spent the time to become a psychologist, become a counselor, a social worker, a lot of this felt like your calling. It felt like something you were supposed to do, felt like something you were meant to do. And so I think it’s a personal kind of revelation of that’s part of my identity. It so part of the work I think has been unraveling. What is my identity without being a therapist? What is my identity professionally? What other things have I been good at professionally? What have I enjoyed doing professionally? And I think I’ll dig into some of that and how if you’re struggling with these kind of decisions, whether it be the environment, whether it be therapy itself or the role of a therapist and feeling like you need to step away from that, how you can do that. And some of that, I think, is great if you have a therapist to explore some of that in therapy. And other parts of that could be looking at your business structure, your therapy practice. Do you need to change something with your therapy practice, whether that be financially or taking on fewer clients, increasing your fees, for example, so that you can see fewer clients and sustain yourself in other ways? I think there’s lots of questions and layers. So in the next episode, I’m going to lay out a therapist burnout recovery journey. And for me, it’s my process and also some thoughts from the literature about what can help us move out of burnout. And when you’re in those acute phases, you’re just there. Just like when we see clients and they’re in the midst of a cris, they’re in crisis. We have to deal with that cris. We have to find our way out. We have to make a game plan. And it takes as long as it takes. I hate saying it, but it’s true. And I hated it. I hated that it took that long. I wanted change to happen yesterday. Believe me, I understand. I am not a patient person, but I make decisions and I’m not patient. And I also make decisions very slowly. I question everything. And I think many therapists are similar. They’re very thoughtful, they’re very introspective, they take lots of time to make those decisions. So I get the impatience and not wanting to wait and wanting to have it all figured out. Believe me, it’s painful. I hope you’ll enjoy these episodes. My hope is to talk about some of these themes that I’m noticing from myself and also themes from the literature. So backing up in my training, I completed my dissertation on compassion fatigue and I really hadn’t looked at a bunch of it since that time. Although I am an EMDR trained clinician and certainly understand stress in the body, I’m going to just apply for my certification so I can say I’m an EMDR certified clinician because I did all this stuff. Just need to do that. So anyway and I love that model. I think it has been some of the most transformative therapy that I’ve or therapy trainings that I’ve done as a psychologist and as a therapist. So I’m excited. I hope that you’ll write to me. Let me know what you want to hear more of, and I hope to have some guests on as well to hear about their struggles with Burnout and how they’re getting themselves out of it as well. Talk soon.

Speaker B: Thank you for listening to the Joy After Burnout podcast. Be the first to hear new episodes by following the podcast in your podcast player. This is an informational podcast only. Any information expressed by the host or guest is not a substitute for legal, medical or financial advice.


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