Thinking burnout prevention, reflections from Mind your Mind podcast

Written by Roxana Parra Sepulveda, visit Roxana's website for more information

July 20, 2023
5 min read
Photo showing a path through the forest

About Roxana

I am Roxana Parra Sepulveda, I was born in Chile and migrated to the UK from Spain after doing a Master degree in Psychotherapy at Barcelona University. Since I arrived in the UK I started volunteering at Refugee Action Kingston, doing psychotherapy for refugees fleeing a variety of harmful circumstances. I continued my work with survivors of traumatic experiences and abuse by doing therapy, coordinating and managing therapeutic services in different organisations. During that period, I trained to further understand trauma and later delivered specialised trauma-informed clinical supervision.

My journey into trauma-informed practice

Soon after qualifying as clinical supervisor, my interest for understanding secondary traumatization took shape and I started to do supervision for non clinicians, realising that there was very little awareness and training about the need to work from a trauma-informed approach, that included understanding of self-care to maintain resilience.

Through that work I started to see first-hand the impact of working with the pain and suffering of others in myself and the professionals I supported.

The need for safe environments

After years working with survivors of different types of abuse, I slowly started to identify signs of emotional exhaustion in myself, arriving home so exhausted sometimes that I couldn’t talk anymore. In those moments a safe environment at home and good relationships kept me grounded and feeling safe.

Countless overwhelming moments encouraged me to reflect on the scale of the problem of abuse and gender based violence in our society. It left me rethinking my role, and how I could be part of the solution. I also realised that I was working with many people helping others in diverse roles who didn’t have reflective spaces, safe homes to go to, strong support networks and little self-awareness considering the potential impact of our job.

The need for clinical supervision

As psychotherapists, me and my team had an advantage: We had diverse reflective spaces that help us to process the stories of emotional and psychological pain we witness day in and day out. It is mandatory for us to have clinical supervision and we are encouraged to have personal therapy. As therapists, we share reflective spaces, but this was not the reality for most of my colleagues. They were hearing stories of survivors of extremely adverse circumstances in life without the safe reflective spaces to process what they heard and the feelings associated.

Secondary traumatisation and burnout

Secondary traumatisation and burnout are part of a cumulative continuum that runs with us throughout our working life. They are the result of a variety of stressors in our professional roles, personal life and history. Burnout is not a medical condition but it is an occupational phenomenon related to the work environment (Druckman, 2023).

Therefore, when working with survivors of adverse circumstances, it is not only important to be aware of our personal vulnerabilities and limits but also to have an understanding of the protocols and procedures the organisation has in place to support burnout prevention. Workload, long hours, shift patterns and organisational culture have an important role to play in workers entering the way towards burnout.

Helping others become more self-aware and resilient

I felt the need to talk about this on a bigger scale for a while now. My one-to-one conversations have confirmed over and over again that self-awareness and understanding of the process, from thriving to burnout, is a fundamental aspect of supporting front line workers’ resilience. This is how my podcast Mind your Mind was born.

Twice a month my guests and I are talking about diverse topics of interest to encourage the development of personally meaningful self-care strategies. We aim to help frontline workers in diverse settings to reduce anxiety, increase resilience and discover new ways to be true to their purpose in life and careers. The approach of the podcast is holistic, considering body, mind and spirituality and is informed in the 5 pillars that support my practice: Understanding the impact of trauma, Attachment theory, Psychoeducation on trauma and trauma response, multilingualism and multiculturalism.

Working in a complex area without appropriate support

While doing the podcast, it has become evident that frontline workers are operating in a complex area: between the demands and needs of service users and the framework and resources provided by their organisations. Therefore, they are working in a persistently stressful multi-layered and demanding environment which is stretching staff to their limits and beyond. For many organisations, having reflective space and wellbeing initiatives for the staff is considered a luxury. Not only for economical reasons, but also because the society in general and the organisation’s culture supports hard work more than a balanced approach to work and wellbeing.

When I talk about building resilience in the workplace, I am talking about a systemic issue, not an individual’s problem. Therefore building resilience is a shared responsibility between the organisation and the individual.

The importance of self-care

The word ‘self-care’ has a connotation of self-indulgence that workers can’t allow themselves (or enjoy) knowing the level of suffering that is out there. Lack of resources also impacts the quality and extension of the services that can be provided, negatively impacting on the values that a person carries related to their profession. This hinders a sense of integrity and feeds feelings of guilt and despair.

I also know that by paying persistent attention to other’s needs, we can lose sight of our own needs. Working in a highly stressful environment for long periods of time undermines our capacity to enjoy the work, reduces energy levels leading to exhaustion and creates disconnection from ourselves, our loved ones and society. These are some of the issues that frontline workers could experience as a consequence of their work. The feelings ignited by may lead to developing unhealthy coping mechanisms in the long term if they are not processed through reflective dialogues.

Considering organisational and personal wellbeing strategies

There are many things that organisations may want to consider while embarking in the task of developing an organisational wellbeing strategy: 

  • Work from a trauma-informed approach that allows the organisation not only to understand how trauma might impact their staff but the organisation as a whole.
  • Managers need to work on their own self care strategies and develop a good level of self awareness on how they influence a culture of resilience or a culture conducive to burnout.
  • Include reflective spaces for all involved directly or indirectly in the work supporting others; considering cleaners, admin and other non front-line staff within their organisation.
  • Normalise open dialogues about general wellbeing within one to one meetings.
  • Encourage the development of personalised self-care strategies because we are all different.
  • Develop protocols and procedures that can support staff if they are having concerns about their wellbeing.
  • Share good practice and initiatives with other originations! 

Some ideas to develop your personally meaningful self-care strategy:

  • Identify your stressors and take time to understand them.
  • Take breaks – identify what a good break looks like for you.
  • Develop your personal support system.
  • Engage in one practice that feels energising and fulfilling. 
  • Don’t shame yourself into wellbeing!

In summary, let’s be optimistic

In summary, burn out prevention is a process that involves shifting from hopelessness to a more optimistic mindset that will allow front line workers (and managers), to identify the opportunities to implement preventative actions when facing daily challenges. It entails understanding and normalising the reactions to witnessing horror and pain regularly, while promoting and supporting stress resilience through unified organisational standards.

Mind your Mind podcast

Graphic for Mind Your Mind podcast

The podcast can be found on Spotify and YouTube.

You can follow it on Instagram @mind_your_mind_podcast or simply visit my website to access the episodes. 

Episode 1: Introduction to Mind your Mind podcast

Episode 12 (the latest episode): Let’s talk about Mental Health