015: Navigating Busy Season as a Therapist: Burnout concerns as we start a New Year

January 10, 2024
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Ever felt the weight of burnout, especially when the new year brings not just resolutions, but also a surge in therapy demands? In this episode, we’re diving deep into the strategies to not just survive but thrive in the face of burnout.In this episode, Dr. Jen Blanchette discusses the challenges therapists face during busy season and offers strategies for finding balance. She emphasizes the importance of self-care and taking breaks to prevent burnout. Additionally, she explores the financial aspect of therapy and encourages therapists to consider raising their fees or assessing insurance panels to ensure fair compensation. Dr. Blanchette  highlights the need for therapists to advocate for themselves and create a supportive work culture. She shares personal experiences and insights, providing valuable advice for therapists navigating the demanding nature of their profession.

Hey therapists, welcome back to the podcast! As we step into 2024, let’s talk about the challenges therapists face during busy seasons and the impact of burnout. Here are three key takeaways:

Deductible Season Awareness:

It’s not just busy season, but also deductible season. Many clients have deductibles to meet, so as a therapist, make sure you’re collecting the whole session fee. Learn from my experience of starting solo in private practice without knowing the importance of checking deductibles.

Recognizing Depletion:

January through April can be tough. Seasonal affective disorder, post-holiday stress, and personal depletion can affect both therapists and clients. Acknowledge your own depletion and prioritize deep rest between therapeutic days to maintain emotional resources.

Empowering Change:

Therapists often face burnout due to low pay and high stress. Consider advocating for change – whether it’s increasing fees, working with insurance companies strategically, or exploring alternative sources of income. Take steps to reduce caseload temporarily if needed and embrace a personalized approach to therapy.

Remember, 2024 is an opportunity for positive change in your practice and life. You have the power to rewrite the script and create a fulfilling and sustainable career. Wishing you a transformative year ahead! Links to all my stuff free and paid: linktr.ee/drjenblanchette

Speaker A: This is the Finding Joy After Burnout podcast, a podcast for therapists and mental health professionals. Together, we unravel burnout and find our road back to joy. Here’s your host, Dr. Jen Blanchette.

Speaker B: Hey, therapist. Welcome back to the podcast. It’s 2024. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and I am spending some time, actually, between the holidays. It’s the new year over the weekend at the time of this recording, and it’s always a good time to think about the year and then the year ahead. And I just know that when I was in private practice, I was bracing myself a little bit for busy season. So busy season in therapeutic work is coming upon us. Usually there’s a little bit of a lull in January, and I kind of forgot also that it’s also deductible season. So it’s often a time, if you haven’t been in private practice very long, you may not realize that a lot of your clients have a deductible to meet, and you need to be collecting the whole session fee. So if you haven’t done it already before, it gets you at the end of January. Look up all of your clients deductibles if you are billing insurance. Because when I went into private practice, I just didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And I think many of us don’t. We just try to wing it and see what we can do. I didn’t have a billing person. I started out very much solo and clawing my way through it, and I didn’t realize that I needed to check on those deductibles and make sure that I was collecting the money I was due. And sometimes I didn’t collect and I didn’t get paid. So just a note, if you need to do that, go ahead and do it. So, I know that this time of year, in January through, I don’t know, I’m in Maine, so it stays colder here. So people are often in winter mode through April, so we don’t get that spring like energy where clients often want to fly the coupe of our therapeutic practice until later. But oftentimes, people are really stressed. They’re really low. Seasonal affective disorder is a thing, and if they don’t even have that, they just might be in a lot of low energy and just kind of the hangover from the holidays. Financially, emotionally, being with family, I think, is a lot, and it’s a lot for us as the clinician, too. We don’t realize that all of that time has really probably depleted us so I’m a mom of two young boys, and there’s a difference when you are creating the magic of the season versus showing up to somebody else’s house and just enjoying their own magic. So for us, that was my husband’s wonderful rib roast. Thank God for him making that on Christmas Eve. And I am like. He calls me the veg queen, so I do like veggies. And I was cooking all the veggies and making all the cookies and wrapping all the presents, all of that. And I’m glad. It’s hard to say that I’m glad it’s over, but I often feel this way after the holidays that I got through that, and I just don’t know if it’s realistic to be like, yay, I’m ready for Christmas, and let’s go. That has just never really been my personality. But I hope if some of you are Christmas elves and you enjoy Christmas or the holidays, maybe you’re a hanukkah. It’s not a Hanukkah elf, right? I actually celebrated hanukah for a while. I had interesting religious tradition upbringing, which I won’t get into at the moment, but we did celebrate hanukah for a while. So anywho, I digress, but I want to talk to you a little bit about busy season, because I think we often come into our busy therapeutic season feeling depleted from the holidays. Then we get whammed with, if you’re, know, the northern hemisphere, then really the coldest time of the year, the time where we have less light, unless you are in sunny California or Florida, then you’re dealing with it, right? So we come into this depleted, not thinking about the real rest that we need. And if you were like I was, you’re dealing with chronic burnout. You never really got restored. So if you’ve been dealing with chronic burnout for a while, like I was for probably the whole pandemic, let’s say, then you’re probably not even reset at this point. So you’re going to need to think about what kind of deep rest do I need? In between my therapeutic days and when I wasn’t in practice, it would become just less and less and less where I felt like I could show up to session and feel like I could be present for clients and then get off of work and go do the mom thing and make dinner and be present for my children. It was really difficult. At the end of a therapeutic day, I felt super depleted. It’s a tiredness that I don’t think you can explain unless you’re a therapist, that number one, you’re sitting, which is horrible for your body, like the entire day, and you’re taking on the pain of people, which other people don’t do that. They don’t get it. They’re like, okay, you’re talking to them all day. You know the difference, this audience, you know what we’re talking about. So that’s happening. And then you just have just limited emotional resources at the end of the day, right? And so when your kid is being a kid and being loud at dinner, you’re just kind of like having little patience for that. I’m speaking from personal experience and you just have very little resources to provide. So you have to think about, how do I get more of those resources when it feels like they are not available to me? And so for me, I had to think about either of those breaks during the day because at home I don’t really get a break in the evenings. My kids are busy and they need me, and that’s just what they need at their ages, right? So if I can’t get that in the evening until 830, where I just hit the chair and then fall out, then I have to program that into my day. I have to make sure that I’m getting up and getting a couple of walks, doing some yoga. When I was in practice, I had my own office, so I often had a yoga mat and some weights, and I would try to do some exercises, gentle exercises, just to kind of keep the blood moving. That was helpful. I had my dog also, which was like my co regulator in the room. So I had that. That was wonderful. But sometimes that’s just not enough. So to think about really being selfish. Unfortunately, if you’re in this role on the weekends and if that’s not available to you, I am sorry if you don’t have someone to support you, to let you have that time. But if we don’t have it, then we don’t have it to give back to our clients or back to the work that we’re trying to do. So I would just have you really think through as clients are coming back from the holidays, often very stressed, often very depleted. We are also very depleted, and we need more of that rest ourselves. I saw an interesting post. It wasn’t actually a post about therapists, but it was kind of about. I read a lot of stuff regarding quitting culture, like quitting people quitting their jobs and how we’re really normalizing that now. I am grateful for the younger generations and I am like on the cusp of Gen X and millennial. And so for Gen Z, I just feel like they’re done, like taking stuff. If it’s not working in their life, they’re just going to leave. And that’s the first generation that’s really done that. And I think some of the older generations kind of give us flak, like they aren’t putting in their dues or they’re not kind of toeing the line, but I kind of see it as, no, they’re advocating for themselves. They know that they can’t be in a job that depletes them, so they leave it. We should celebrate that and really think about the culture that we are creating in jobs. So, at any rate, I think it was a LinkedIn post any of this guy posted about people don’t quit their jobs. They quit low pay, low support, high stress. And I know that therapists don’t quit their jobs because of the work itself. It’s because of low pay, high stress. And I think that’s the thing that I told myself when I was at the end of my practice, the amount of money that I was making was not commiserate to the investment that I was putting into it. And that’s not the investment I put into my clients, per se, but part of it true. Yes. Some clients, they weren’t really using the resources that I was giving them. And I think the onus was also on me to make sure those clients, if they are not accessing their therapy, then I likely should have worked to discharge those clients. And that’s maybe another episode that I’ll talk, talk about the clinical work and how we need to take responsibility if clients aren’t meeting treatment goals and are depleting us, that we need to work towards helping that client either access the therapy in a different way or push them to termination because we’re not really helping them or ourselves in that matter. So I know that therapists are quitting the low pay and the mismatch between what they’re getting out of the role and how much they’re putting in. And with this busy season upon us, I think about therapists who want to stay in their role. I want you to stay in your role because we need therapists. So how can you have more resources to be able to continue this work if that’s what you want to do? So could that be increasing your fees? That’s a slower process than I thought. I did it and I was like, okay, listen to some podcasts. They’re all talking about charge your worth therapist, you got this. And I always will say your worth is infinite. Your services have a price, and that price tag is not infinite. Although many of the therapists, if you’re charging $75 to $100 an hour, you can charge more 100%. You can charge more for your services, you can tweak your marketing, you can do all those things. And I’m happy to share how I did those things. So I did charge more. I just think I did it too late and I was already burnout, like the pandemic just set in and all the things that I talk about. But if you are in that range, in that lower range, like under 100 range, you can certainly increase your fee 100%. And you can do that no problem. And also work with insurance companies if you want to do that, to get your fee raised or come off those panels that really are not giving you the financial rewards that you need or the financial compensation rather that you need, and consider those panels that are giving you that financial compensation that is good for you and having that be part of your mix. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation. So I think many of the times when I look on this burnout therapist Facebook group, too, a lot. I think many of the therapists that I hear are talking about just feeling utterly depleted, feeling like they cannot give anything else. And really some frightening things that I see on there. Honestly, I mean, I got to the point where I was having panic attacks while driving and needed to do my own EMDR therapy, and I was providing therapy during that whole season. I wish someone would have just told me take a break, that it was okay, even if it was just for a couple of weeks. So I could have maybe had some intensive work with my therapist at that time, but I just couldn’t do it at the time. But some of the posts that I see on there are therapists who are dealing with some really heavy mental health concerns themselves. They are beyond burnout, depressed, like pseudo suicidal on the comments on there, people are concerned like, hey, you need to check in with somebody, call the hotline or something. So it’s happening. You’re not alone in that. You’re not alone in feeling like, how can I give any more to this job or this role? So I just want to encourage you that you can find a break. And if that means, like, number one, let’s just talk about some steps you can do. So, number one, if you are that depleted, take a complete break, take a complete rest. Figure out how you can financially support yourself and for how long. And take the time you need. That’s just number one, take a complete break if you are that far depleted. Second, I would say talk with your partner or your family. That could be extended family. I don’t know your situation about ways you can reduce your work. If you need to figure some things out, maybe you need to figure out ways to make money another way. Right? You need to find your money can’t just come from therapy. You need to figure that piece out. So you need some more time. You need to reduce your caseload. That’s another way to do it, is to reduce your caseload temporarily and maybe take on another job. Perhaps I say this so much, but when I finally ran my numbers, my highest grossing year, and I don’t have the financial burden of needing to make. I’m not the primary earner in my family, rather, so I didn’t have to make all of the money. Some of you are not in that situation, so I can appreciate that. My situation was that I needed to bring in probably about $40,000. And when I was working nearly full time or as full time as I wanted to be in the pandemic, I think I grossed about 45 to. There are so many jobs for 45 to, especially ones that do not require a doctoral degree. Hello. Because I have one. So I just want to encourage you, like, when you start to open up your mind and get curious about how else you can make money, things will be open to you. So there is hope. My dear therapist friend here, please listen to me. It is not hopeless. We can figure out ways to help you make money. So two would be take a reduction in your caseload. Take some time off. If you can just buy time, buy as much time as you can. Third is really figuring out how much time, much rest you need. So maybe that’s I need a rest day in between my therapy days. And then maybe you’re doing admin or some other things on those rest days, or maybe some light work. Maybe it’s only like a session or two and you’re having some heavier, therapeutic days. Think about your mix and what you need. So that would be the third is to really adjust how you’re doing therapy, either at your job or in your practice. So I just really want you to think through those three tips from a burnout, seasoned form of therapist, who knows? And I just want to encourage you that change is possible. Number one, I know it feels like you always have to do things the way you’re doing it. You don’t. No one has written the script it is your life, it is your practice, and you can change it if you need to. So I just want to encourage you. 2024 can be a year where things change, so I wish you the best and we’ll chat soon.

Speaker A: 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.

Speaker B: You close.


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