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Lessons Learned From My Year Of Working Minimally

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I'm a pretty strong, resilient person, but in the past few years I've lost a lot of loved ones, and I mean, a lot. Finally, it started getting to me.

My patience was wearing thin, my tolerance for some of the stuff that tends to get thrown at me as a therapist (an expected occupational hazard, and for the most part, usually tolerable) was at an all-time low, and most importantly, my love for the work was dwindling. I didn't have the same spring in my step anymore, and I needed to make a change. It just wasn't clear what that would look like.

Loss is devastating, and losing so many beloved people -- and one dear cat -- in such a short period of time played havoc on my sense of empowerment in the world. Without really thinking about it, I acknowledged my spiritual malaise and decided to take some time away from my therapy practice and concentrate, instead, on something that always makes me feel better: my creativity.

I cut my patient-hours almost in half, and turned my attention to different types of things, like producing a new podcast series, blogging, doing public speaking and radio interviews; even working on my first novel.

It wasn't that these activities weren't challenging, because they sure have been, but they didn't drain me in the same way that my therapy practice had been doing (a few rather toxic individuals had given me a particularly hard time, just when I'd experienced the most painful loss of my life, and it had soured me, somewhat, on my profession).

Being creative was energizing and healing, and although financially not the greatest idea, taking the year off from my practice was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Lately, as I've increased my therapy hours, I've been working with three people who are currently experiencing workplace burn-out. It's been very interesting, exploring with them how they got to this place of emotional exhaustion and crisis.

There were some factors they all had in common, which had contributed to the crisis they're now in:

None of them had voluntarily taken time off for themselves; not until they were in acute crisis and then had to go on sick leave. Every one of them tried to change how they approached their job, in a conscientious yet vain attempt to continue working.

All of them were in environments in which they felt helpless and out of control, because they weren't being adequately supported and they were experiencing a relatively high degree of abuse. No wonder they got burnt out.

I like to think that as a therapist, I don't just talk the talk but also I walk the walk. Well, looking back at the past year, I think I now have a nice example of this. I did voluntarily take time away from my practice, before I became emotionally exhausted, and instead of being conscientious to a fault, I focused my attention on doing different activities -- ones that made me feel happy and empowered, as opposed to aggravated and helpless.

There are a few things about my work as a therapist that I can't talk about, but suffice to say that often, when things are most challenging for me, the job doesn't offer the support that I need. Taking time off from work and concentrating on activities that were meaningful and engaging gave me my strength and motivation back, and helped me to feel like my best self again.

Yes, there are a lot of accumulated bills to pay, but on the other hand, I'm in great shape, emotionally and physically. (I also spent a lot of time being physically active, during my hiatus from work). I've learned some new tips for balancing all the things that I like to do, and as a result, I'm enjoying my practice in a way that I hadn't been, previously.

Taking time away from work has renewed my love for the job and has made me a better therapist, as a result.

All the creative work I've been doing has infused my groups and workshops with new energy, and many of my patients have been telling me that they've been getting a lot more out of participating in these activities, lately. Not a bad result from taking a bit of time off to do something other than psychotherapy.

When I was in medical school in Newfoundland, they had a lot of quaint expressions; for example, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes," or "A change is as good as a rest." I don't know about the weather, especially here in Toronto, but I've come to see that my year of change was definitely as good as a rest -- perhaps even better.

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