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How burnout taught me to be a better therapist

I experienced the difficulty of becoming a therapist firsthand when I burned out last year. Heavy and unexpected relational and family circumstances, along with a growing and demanding caseload left me feeling depleted and overwhelmed. I hit my limit. I fantasized about being a librarian or janitor – anything where I didn’t have to face other people’s pain and expectations.

Thankfully, my supervisor was understanding and supportive. He allowed me to cut back to five clients a week, which gave me time and space to rest and restore. During that time, I learned just how limited and precious my energy was. I have limits. And when I blow past those limits it isn’t good for my clients, for me, and for those I love.

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The Mental Health Crisis Causing Teachers to Quit

Lesley Allen will never know what triggered her final panic attack last fall.

She was outside supervising a group of students during a mask break at her middle school in South Berwick, Maine, when she felt a sense of overwhelming dread. Her anxiety spiked, her heart thumped out of her chest and her left arm went numb. I’m having a heart attack, she thought.

But before she could drag herself to the nurse’s office, she had to find someone to watch her sixth grade class.

It wasn’t the first time she’d felt like this. After a previous episode a few weeks before, her doctor put her on a heart monitor and ordered a cardiac ultrasound. The results were normal. Her heart was fine. It was another panic attack, her doctor confirmed. Unlike anxiety, panic attacks often have no trigger. They can pop up out of nowhere, frequently accompanied by feelings of intense fear, along with physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

Allen’s panic attack on the blacktop was her third—all of them had taken place since the pandemic began, and two of them at school.

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