I was reading Saturday’s Age and came upon an article in the Business Section entitled Behind closed doors, CEOs Literally Weep (p.8) which was triggered by the then NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn saying he was going to take an extra four weeks Long Service Leave in addition to his annual leave at Christmas time 2018. No one would argue that the banks (and NAB in particular) have had a shocking time (self-imposed) over the Royal Commission and subsequently Mr. Thorburn was forced to cancel his leave plans as he and his Chairman, Mr. Ken Henry both announced their resignations before the end of 2018.
The article went on to talk about work-life burnout, exhaustion and fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, sleep deprivation, disconnection from others and lack of meaning in jobs at the CEO and senior levels. The most interesting observation was that although it is not in the interests of investors or Boards of the big end of town to expect CEOs and senior managers to tough out the stresses of the job, this is still the norm because that is the culture in the corporate sector. How does this connect with burnout in private psychology practice?
An article from Psychotherapy Networker (2015) entitled Burnout Reconsidered (Miller, Hubble & Mathieu) summarises the research on prevention of burnout and work stress in therapists as coming down to personal agency over your own work. Not the demands and responsibilities of the job, nor engaging in coping strategies and self-care, increased leisure or conventional supervision. Caring effectively is where the answers are to be found. Using outcome measurement routinely to track treatment effectiveness is what gave me longevity in my 30-year career and all things considered, probably stopped burnout being a feature of my work life. Clearly however outcome measurement is not enough to prevent burnout on its own. Burnout can only be prevented if it is addressed for the individual psychologist/therapist, their agency or practice and the system in which they are operating.
Psychology does not want to be the target of dare-I-say a Royal Commission (although we are currently being reviewed by Medicare Australia, the Productivity Commission and in Victoria the Royal Commission into Mental Health) because burnout in our field led to poor outcomes for clients, psychologists leaving our profession and an inability to deliver in the fight (with others) against increasing suicide rates, mental ill health and emotional suffering. We want to be on the front foot, being prepared to look at what objectively leads to client improvement so as to enhance our effectiveness and the lives of our clients.