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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Burnout Season
April 11, 2010 - 6:33pm

I don’t think it’s coincidental that recent posts to this blog have focused on the importance of self-care even in the face of others’ needs, the longing for vacation and the need to find and pursue one's passion. April can, indeed, be the cruelest month, mixing not only memory and desire, but end-of-school-year crunches, tax panic, and, for some of us, a feeling of deprivation induced by seeing others out enjoying the beautiful weather while we’re stuck indoors, vainly trying to catch up.

This is the time of year when I start to feel overwhelmed (more than usual) and inadequate (ditto), as well as guilty for wanting recreational time when there are so many people in need and so much piled-up paperwork.

A psychiatrist friend left a voicemail the other day saying that he had attended a seminar on secondary traumatization of clinical supervisors, and “I immediately thought of you.” He reported that the presenter informed them that supervisory burnout is common, because, in a kind of reverse-Ponzi process, the supervisor absorbs the stress that the clinicans have taken in from their clients, and, generally, there is no one on whom the supervisor can unload. “Just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you and hoping you’re taking care of yourself,” he said. “Let’s talk soon.” Naturally, I haven’t had a chance to call him back.

A prospective supervisee called to say he would be starting at my clinic within the next few weeks and had been given my name, to set up an appointment to begin supervision. My schedule is already full—I’m on the verge of losing track of who sees which client and what the individual treatment issues are. At a different time, or before receiving my friend’s message. I might have responded differently. Instead, I heard myself saying, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. You’ll need to find someone else.”

“There is no one else,” he responded. “I’m a new Ph.D., and I need supervision by a psychologist, not a social worker. There are only two psychologist supervisors, and the other one can’t take me, either.”

Crap, I thought, why couldn’t he have called me first, so the other one could be the bad guy?

I could hear — and identify with — the desperation in his voice. I remember all too well the experience of being a new graduate, needing to fulfill baroque and sometimes incomprehensible licensing requirements and feeling completely alone with it all. Yet I was at the point of saturation. One more supervisee would mean between twelve and twenty new clients to keep track of, both clinically and administratively, as well as increased odds of having my down time interrupted with crisis-management calls. I couldn’t do this — really.

“All right,” he said. “If you can’t, you can’t. But I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Finally, I had an idea. “If it’s okay with the administration to transfer one of the social workers I supervise, I can see you,” I said. He rang off, thanking me profusely for even trying to help him out. I felt like an entitiled jerk. But they are going to shift my schedule around so I can see him without straining myself further. I’m so glad it worked out.

What I really need, though, is to turn my phone off, unplug the computer, and head for a week at the beach. And I don’t see how that can happen.


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