Ask the LifeQuake Doctor – Feb 2016
Dear Dr. Toni:
I am a psychologist who works primarily in the recovery field. I imagine that I should be consulting you privately, but as my practice has taken a hit the last few months, I am not in a position to afford myself the very service I provide my clients. You have mentioned in your column that you are a therapist’s therapist, so I thought it was worth a shot to reach out to you.
Here is my issue: I feel like I am in a combination of compassion fatigue and codependency relapse. What I mean by that is that it is getting harder and harder to compete as a therapist with all the coaches and consultants in our field who are not bound by ethical guidelines and can promise they can fix you in four sessions even if they can’t.
The constant marketing one has to do now to compete is exhausting. Coupled with that, I find myself going above and beyond the call of duty with my current clients so as not to lose them. For example, going over time in sessions, not charging for emergency calls, letting people go longer than thirty days on payment for my services, and so on.
My girlfriend is complaining that I don’t give her enough attention and when I am there, I am not totally there. I am too old to get hired by Kaiser or a treatment facility and they pay therapists so little, I couldn’t live on that wage anyway.
Do you have any suggestions?
–At My Wit’s End
I empathize. Many therapists are feeling this as well and I have addressed some of this in past columns, but here are some new ideas. My response to you is to give you some options that are available without going back to school.
Here are the various things that are possible while drawing upon your skills as a therapist.
Write a Blog
Write about something you are passionate about. For example, I have a passion for helping people prepare for and go through major transitions. I also love all things Italian. I discovered a way to link the two through a weekly blog on LinkedIn connected to helping people manage change, Italian style.
Listen to Your Dreams
Volunteer for a cause you have a passion for by paying attention to your sleeping dreams. A client I was working with had a dream that she should get involved in issues involving water shortage and clean water in the world, which led her to volunteer for an organization that is devoted to this. It became an avocation that reinfused her day job.
Teach a class at a local university in the psychology department or through extension on some aspect of your work that you still love.
Take a class in something that will stimulate your creativity, but that you genuinely have an interest in. It could be photography or creative writing, for example.
Take an Improv Class
This may sound odd, but taking a class in improvisation can actually help with burnout and compassion fatigue. It requires you to become more spontaneous and visceral, less analytical.
Change Your Exercise Routine
Find something that has cardio value, but that’s different than what you’ve been doing. If you’ve been working out on a treadmill, try putting together a list for Pandora Internet radio of songs you love and then spend twenty minutes in the morning dancing to them in your living room. Or, take a dance class that you really enjoy. You may have to experiment and try a few different types before finding the one you like.
Try a Conference
I know you said money is an issue, but going to a conference devoted to addiction counseling—like U.S. Journal Training conferences, for example—can inspire your work by teaching you new ways to approach your clients and network with people. You say you work with addicts, so perhaps consider developing a niche such as “I work with addicts in early recovery” or “I work with addicts having midlife issues.” At that point you could then network at a conference with people who work with teens who could be referral sources. U.S. Journal Training has conferences all around the United States and you can find them at www.usjt.com.
Find a Meeting
Lastly, find an Alanon or codependency anonymous meeting that can help you be more aware of staying inside healthy boundary setting with your clients. The key here with marketing burnout is to get out and meet people. There is a wonderful book written by Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone, and he recommends marketing through building relationships, rather than going to intentional networking functions where everyone is scrambling to get new clients.
Hopefully, this can provide some direction to get you started. It is the beginning of the year, which is a great time to make some changes!