Preventing clinician burnout when client and caregiver needs are at an all-time high: a BCBA’s perspective.
Why addressing our needs is critical -- and strategies you can implement today.
With a school year approaching that will be quite different from those in years past, I’m going to make a bold statement:
You aren’t your best ___________ if you’re running on empty.
Fill in that blank with whichever hat you're wearing today -- because we know you’re wearing a lot of them lately! Whether you are a clinician, teacher, behavior therapist, supervisor, parent, or any combination of the above: a priority for this upcoming school year needs to be making sure you are feeling your best every day. Working in a field where days off to take bubble baths or ‘self love days’ aren’t an option, particularly in September and October, doesn’t mean self care takes a backseat however.
Let’s start with an objective definition- What exactly is self- care? Self care is more than eating well, drinking lots of water, and getting enough sleep. While those are important tasks to help feel your physical best every day, I want to orient you to the more encompassing view of self care. As discussed in Fiebig et al.(2020), self care is increased correspondence with your personal and work values. This may sound like a lofty “I don’t have time for that” concept, but hear me out. As a behavior analyst, we know how to break down overwhelmingly large tasks into smaller more manageable chunks.
Let’s break it down together. Hence: ‘What kind of practitioner do I want to be?’ can become:
What makes me feel proud at the end of the day?
What do I wish my supervisor recognized me more for?
What tasks do I avoid doing or put off to the last minute?
What do I wish I could tell my supervisor or team?
What is it that I do in a day?
What was the last thing that really challenged me?
Do this action one time today.
This is something you are passionate about- read about it, how can you improve in that skill?
These may be tasks that are difficult for you, or uncomfortable. Lean into it- ask for guidance on how to do it, identify what about it causes discomfort, and identify if it’s something you can learn about or improve with, or something you need to adapt to.
Identify how you can increase openness and authenticity in your daily interactions. You may not change your workplace overnight, but you can start with one person a day, or a week and work up from there.
Identify your current daily tasks (work and personal), and write out what your tasks should be. Having clearly defined tasks and expectations has been linked to improvements in potential burnout (Veage et al., 2014)
This will help you identify a value that you felt was compromised- what can you glean from this experience about yourself and a direction you can grow into.
After completing your list of 5-6 goals, you may notice that you have a list of goals to help identify what you value at work and in your personal life - whether you want to set them daily, weekly, monthly or in combination.
You may also find yourself saying “well, I used to do x, y, z for self care, but that’s not available now.” Humans have a tendency to grip strongly to routine and expectations, and during the last year those have likely been completely flipped upside down. Instead of trying to replicate what used to work for you previously, identify what values those filled- did you lead a book club? Or have after-hours group training courses with colleagues? Those activities satisfied you because they fulfilled a value - whether it be fun social activities, increasing your knowledge of something or improving your relationships with friends and loved ones.
Once you identify the value that activity brought to your life, think of different ways you can engage in it in our “new normal.” Maybe you have group meetings outdoors, or take an online class with friends, or just spend more uninterrupted time with your loved ones- there isn’t one shape this can take, as long as it brings you closer to your living values.
If you are working long hours, or have an inconsistent schedule, try and align your work or tasks with your values. Can you do it with others to get some social interaction? Can you spin your training into a course that your company can use, that would decrease your effort in the long term? Can you present the training in a different modality to flex your artistic skills, or include memes or references to your favorite shows and movies? Now instead of just working late, you’re becoming more aligned to your values in your actions.
After taking a moment to jot down some notes in a similar table, you may realize that you respond a little differently to an irritating comment from a colleague, a really exhausting situation, or a frustrating interaction at home. From these situations you may find yourself identifying a positive response indicative of growth, and taking one step closer to living in accordance with your values. You may also find yourself frustrated or distracted- this is going to happen, but practice some self-compassion (which we as practitioners are not the best at!), and understand that progress is sometimes a few steps forward, and a few steps back, but every step is a recognition of where you are in relation to your values. Or go get some extra zz’s and drink some water- either is progress towards your best self.
Fiebig, J. H., Gould, E. R., Ming, S., & Watson, R. A. (2020). An Invitation to Act on the Value of Self-Care: Being a Whole Person in All That You Do. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 13(3), 559–567. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-020-00442-x
Veage S, Ciarrochi J, Deane FP, Andresen R, Oades LG, Crowe TP. Value congruence, importance and success and in the workplace: Links with well-being and burnout amongst mental health practitioners. Journal of Contextual Behavior Science. 2014;3:258–264. doi: 10.1016/j.jcbs.2014.06.004.
About the author.
Melissa Clark, M.S., BCBA
CentralReach Implementation Coordinator
Melissa is a BCBA and has been practicing in the field for 10 years from residential services to working overseas. Combined with a background in Computer Science, she is passionate about how technology can increase effectiveness and availability of services. She found her way to CentralReach to increase her impact by supporting more ABA organizations and the clients they serve so they can keep providing quality clinical services and spend less time on administrative work.