Expert Therapist Megan Bearce, LMFT, Discusses Career Burnout
If the maxim—“It takes one to know one” is true, it explains why Megan Bearce can successfully communicate with a plethora of individuals who are living radically different lifestyles and excelling in a variety of careers. In addition to her own professional career spanning two decades as a writer, speaker, psychotherapist, former CPA, and entertainment industry employee; Bearce is also the mother of two and the wife of a super-commuter.
It was at Minnesota State University that Bearce earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Accounting (with a minor in Economics); ultimately graduating Summa cum Laude as well as being honored as “Student of the Year” by the University’s College of Business. She later received her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles, California.
Bearce is no stranger to stress and challenging life situations. As the spouse of a super-commuter, she has experienced the strain of not only moving cross-country, but also the impact of adjusting to multiple career changes--all while maintaining her role as wife and mother.
Is there really such a thing as “therapist burn-out?”
Burnout is a very real thing. People in this career are often drawn to it because they are empathetic, good listeners, and care about others. If you forget or don't know how to set boundaries with others and know your limits, it's a slippery slope to burnout. Private practice carries the stress of owning one’s own business, and agency work sometimes can have the pressure from under-staffing, clients facing multiple stressors, or outside rules and regulations to follow, on top of client care.
Your life is obviously very full and diversified. How do you prevent career burnout?
In my career, I have always made it a priority to have colleagues in my life whose work I trust and opinions I value. That way I can reach out to them when struggling with a case. I currently am in two consultation groups that meet monthly as a place for case consultation and support. We also reach out to one another as things come up outside of those set meetings. I take a yoga class once a week; I limit the number of clients I will see in a day and the number of teens on my caseload. I also fill my office with calming objects - plants, a cool green paint color on the walls, photos of lakes, trees in the fall around the room. I have tea and water available for clients and myself. After each session I wash my hands and spray the room with an aromatherapy spray. These routines all help me stay present and not get overwhelmed by client emotions. One of the consultation groups I am in decided to hire a woman to facilitate a self-care for therapists workshop where we discussed our self-care and where we could do more, learned about meditation, aromatherapy, and shared where we were frustrated by our work. It was very helpful.
How does the industry support professionals in dealing with this dilemma?
I wouldn't say the industry supports professionals in any overt way. In the past few years there are more CEU trainings about mindfulness in regards to working with clients but not so much directly for therapists. Last fall, at my MFT conference, they did offer a workshop about yoga and self-care for therapists; this is one of the first times I've seen that. Many grad school programs require students to be in therapy for a certain number of weeks and I think it would be great if a required course was about self-care and more post-licensure continuing education classes on the topic would be great as well.
How does your job impact your personal life and vise-versa?
My family comes first, especially given my husband super-commutes. So, in a sense, my family impacts my work because I limit my office hours to be available for my kids. I also only see 2 teens at any one time. I feel like being a mom of two young kids has lessened my desire to do more than that given the challenges those cases often present. Part of my desire to become a therapist in private practice was the flexibility and longevity of the career, and so while I am doing 'less' now, I will be able to do more when they are older if I decide I want to. One way this job is different than most is that you can’t really talk about your work with your spouse in any specific sort of way. I like that my kids know that 'mom helps people.'
Considering the high probability that you will experience some degree of burn-out--either on the road to becoming an MFT, or after you are licensed, it would seem a wise career move to behave proactively by initiating stress-relief measures now in order to ensure a happy and healthy future as an MFT.