• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Career Choices

Ambition, stress, values.

January 11, 2015

A few years ago I left a rewarding, but highly demanding and stressful supervisory position to take a higher-pay, lower-impact direct service job in a different area of psychology. I felt burned out by the need to be constantly on call for emergencies, and by worrying about our high risk patients in the lulls between emergencies. The therapists I supervised and the office staff were smart and dedicated, but overwhelmed by increasing government demands for accountability and documentation, coupled with budget cuts that stretched them to the limit.

The new position offered a chance to learn a new skill set, a quieter and more upscale environment, and rigidly enforced boundaries protecting therapists' time off. My boss was pleasant and supportive; my new colleagues and the office staff were friendly and interesting; and the patients were diverse and engaging.

But I started getting a stomach ache every morning on the way in to work. I experimented with eating different breakfasts, and skipping breakfast altogether, but the malaise persisted. I worried briefly that I might be developing an ulcer or something even more serious, but I felt all right when I wasn't in the office.

Because more and more information is placing the gut as the "second brain" (or even, some argue, the primary brain), I try to pay attention to these "gut feelings" even if I don't fully understand them. I started writing out my feelings in the mornings when I woke up. What I discovered was that everything about the job felt wrong to me. The therapeutic techniques the office specialized in felt cold and formulaic; the psychological tests seemed superficial and unreliable. I formed productive bonds with my patients, but the regulations surrounding this particular type of therapy prevented me from doing the in-depth work that is the reason I went into the field.

Even worse than the job feeling wrong, I started to feel wrong—out of place and alienated. It wasn't anyone's fault, it just wasn't right, and my gut was yelling at me to get out.

So I am returning to my previous position. I know I am lucky that they want me back. I hope that I can use what I learned at my current job to create and enforce firmer work/life boundaries, for myself and for the therapists on the front lines. I hope I am not minimizing the burnout effect of the job that I am returning to, and that I won't have to leave again. Leaving is so hard, even when you know it is the right thing to do.


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