The Return of Why Therapists Quit
Curt and Katie chat about how therapists can maintain joy in their practice when they begin to feel burned out. We explore different ways to incorporate self-care into your life and practice, including making future plans and developing your whole identity. We also talk about how privilege impacts therapists’ ability to engage in self-care and career opportunities.
It’s time to reimagine therapy and what it means to be a therapist. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy talk about how to approach the role of therapist in the modern age.
Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.
In this episode we talk about why we haven’t quit:
- Discussion of why Katie has not quit the field.
- Fighting burnout by focusing on what brings you joy in your practice (the Marie Kondo approach).
- The importance of self-care and incorporating new hobbies/interests into your life.
“It takes a lot of ability to care and recharge for yourself…Self-care is not an option. Self-care is a discipline.” – Curt Widhalm
- Assessing the distinction between “not great days” and a “not great workplace”.
- Considering privilege in the ability for therapists to engage in self-care as well as career opportunities.
- The impact COVID has had on therapist’s being able to participate in self-care.
- Learning how to incorporate time to make plans for future career goals.
- How to notice burnout and sacrificial helping.
- The importance of fostering all aspects of your identity (because you are not your job).
Our Generous Sponsors for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide:
Running a private practice is rewarding, but it can also be demanding. SimplePractice changes that. This practice management solution helps you focus on what’s most important—your clients—by simplifying the business side of private practice like billing, scheduling, and even marketing. More than 100,000 professionals use SimplePractice —the leading EHR platform for private practitioners everywhere – to power telehealth sessions, schedule appointments, file insurance claims, communicate with clients, and so much more—all on one HIPAA-compliant platform.
Get your first 2 months of SimplePractice for the price of one when you sign up for an account today. This exclusive offer is valid for new customers only. Go to simplepractice.com/therapyreimagined to learn more.
*Please note that Therapy Reimagined is a paid affiliate of SimplePractice and will receive a little bit of money in our pockets if you sign up using the above link.
RevKey specializes in working with mental health professionals like you to increase not only clicks to your website, but helps you find your ideal patients. From simple startup packages and one time consultations to full Digital Marketing Management Services, RevKey can help you run successful digital marketing ads. RevKey creates customized packages and digital marketing budget recommendations that fit your business needs.
You’ll never receive a data dump report that means nothing to you. Instead, RevKey provides clear concise communication about how your digital marketing ads are performing through meetings for video updates recorded just for you. RevKey is offering $150 off any setup fees for Modern Therapist Survival Guide listeners.
You can find more at RevKey.com and make sure to mention that you’re a Modern Therapist Survival Guide listener.
Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:
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Who we are:
Curt Widhalm, LMFT
Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at: http://www.curtwidhalm.com
Katie Vernoy, LMFT
Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at: http://www.katievernoy.com
A Quick Note:
Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.
Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.
Stay in Touch with Curt, Katie, and the whole Therapy Reimagined #TherapyMovement:
Consultation services with Curt Widhalm or Katie Vernoy:
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Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:
Voice Over by DW McCann https://www.facebook.com/McCannDW/
Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano https://groomsymusic.com/
Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):
Curt Widhalm 0:00
This episode is sponsored by SimplePractice.
Katie Vernoy 0:02
Running a private practice is rewarding, but it can also be demanding, SimplePractice changes that. This practice management solution helps you focus on what’s most important your clients by simplifying the business side of private practice like billing, scheduling, and even marketing.
Curt Widhalm 0:18
Stick around for a special offer at the end of this episode.
Katie Vernoy 0:23
This podcast is also sponsored by Revkey.
Curt Widhalm 0:26
Revkey is a Google Ads digital ads management and consulting firm that works primarily with therapists. Digital advertising is all they do, and they know their stuff. When you work with Revkey they help the right patients find you ensuring a higher return on your investment in digital advertising. Revkey offers flexible month to month plans and never locks customers into long term contracts.
Katie Vernoy 0:49
Listen at the end of the episode for more information on Revkey.
You’re listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.
Curt Widhalm 1:06
Welcome back modern therapists. This is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast for therapists about all sorts of stuff things that we do things that we don’t do, things that our profession does for us. Katie’s giving me the look that I’m still not back into good episode intros. We’re starting today with a little bit of feedback from one of our listeners, we got a message on our Facebook account from Jennifer. I’m gonna paraphrase a little bit of this. Jennifer writes, Hi, Katie and Curt, this love letter is well overdue. I earned my Masters in 2018. I was a relative newbie therapist when the pandemic hit. And I’ve been providing telehealth to a lot of my clients and been struggling with some stuff. I’m paraphrasing here. And one day I found your podcast, appreciate a lot of the things that we talked about. And just as things were starting to feel good, like the world was opening back up, again, the Delta variant hit. And especially in response to some of our episodes, looking for a little bit of a hope here of how do we keep going? How do we not just fall into those traps and things like our episode around Why Therapists Quit? How do we survive in our careers and not just wanting to give up and go and be in any other profession? Katie, why haven’t you quit yet?
Katie Vernoy 2:55
I think I have several times. I think that the definition of quitting can be very different for folks. I’ve not left the profession. So maybe that’s the accurate thing. But I left community mental health, I’ve switched my private practice a number of times, I’ve worked in the profession in more of an advocacy framework. And so the first thing that I would say is I’ve not seen it as a single career that has one particular path, but instead a an evolution of how I work and how I interact with the work and where I find my place in it. So I think the short answer is I keep assessing myself and the work and trying to realign it pretty frequently, actually.
Curt Widhalm 3:50
I would describe my approach is kind of the Marie Kondo approach, of does this part of my job bring me joy? And what I’ve found and this does come with some experience in the fields, some longevity, some being in some positions where I can cut out or throw away some of the aspects that just no longer feel like they are bringing joy to me, bringing me back into the profession. But a lot of that permission for me, comes with community. It comes with being around a lot of like minded therapists that give the permission and the support, to be able to take some of those leaps, to be able to recognize that the safety of something being done just because I’ve always been doing it that way. And it can be let go. It can be something where if it doesn’t emotionally pay off, it doesn’t monetarily pay off for me that it’s something that I don’t have to be beholden to forever. And I say this as somebody who is very much a completionist. Somebody who likes to finish video games to 100%. To not give up on things in the middle that, for me, a lot of it does come from having the permission given to myself to not stay stuck in things just because it’s, it’s there. And it’s what has been.
Katie Vernoy 5:25
I like that because it provides this ongoing assessment of what brings me joy, like Marie Kondo, but it also is not sticking to something, you know, this is the sunk cost fallacy, like, just because I’ve started it just because I’ve invested in it, invested time or money in it doesn’t mean that I need to go down this direct path. And I think that can be really hard. Because if you’ve invested in a lot of time and energy into a specific niche, for example, you’ve you’ve networked and created relationships. And I think for you this was around autism, right? You did a lot of networking, and there was a lot there, and you still work with autistic clients. But I think there’s that, that element of once that was not your area of focus, you moved back. I’ve done that with trauma work. I’ve done that with, you know, trauma survivors and different things in that way. But I think that being able to identify what doesn’t bring me joy anymore, what doesn’t seem this sounds a little bit mercenary, I guess. But what isn’t bringing the return on investment that you would like whether it’s an emotional return on investment or a financial one, I think being able to drop those things can be really good. I actually, when I talk to consulting clients about this, because this is one of the things that is a big conversation, especially for mid career therapists is if you started from scratch, you know, what would you put back in? And I guess this is Marie Kondo. So maybe this isn’t that earth shattering. But even just taking away your whole schedule, like everything is off the table, and you start from scratch, and you only put the things back in that really energize you, bring you revenue, which may not energize you, do the things that you’re required to do. And whether it’s Stephen Covey’s big rocks, or or some of these other concepts of really sticking to the highest priorities, and only allowing them back in can be very helpful. And oftentimes, we can’t do it like, next week, oftentimes, it’s like, okay, let’s look at next year. So three months from now, your schedule is now fresh, you might put clients back in the same time slots, but you may not you may put them at different times of day, you may not have all the same clients, because some of those clients are emotionally draining you in a way that you recognize that you’re probably not doing your best work with them. But I think being able to take away those things that aren’t working, no matter how much time and effort you put into them, no matter how much you feel like that’s what you should do, I think can be very helpful. I mean, there’s practical things to think about, you know, income and all of those things. So this is more of a high level philosophical conversation than a practical one, in this moment, but I think, actually starting from scratch, in your mind, you don’t have to burn everything down. But like, doing the thought experiment of starting from scratch, I think can be very helpful.
Curt Widhalm 8:23
On one hand, the need for mental health and mental health related services seems to be at an all time high, as far as coming out of the pandemic fingers crossed that we’re coming out of it. But the the need for mental health and mental health related services is quite high. And with that, at least at this point in the foreseeable future, and comes a little bit more freedom to be able to take some risks, because the need for mental health service providers is going to remain strong for quite a while here. And so it’s not like we’re in a situation where if we were to leave, you know, an agency, stop a practice or something like that, to go and explore something new, that it would necessarily be something where you can’t go back, that there is some overall professional job security here. And we’re seeing this expand just beyond the traditional, providing direct services to clients in a number of different ways, whether that’s entrepreneurial yourself and maybe moving into more coaching program type things or…
Katie Vernoy 9:40
Curt Widhalm 9:41
courses or any of those kinds of…
Katie Vernoy 9:42
broader reaching stuff, yeah.
Curt Widhalm 9:44
I’ve never seen more positions in corporate environments that are requiring people to have a mental health background to come in. And so there is a lot of options out there that you can take advantage of, and think gets our fear of losing what we have that often keeps us subjected to staying into the same positions over and over again. And to Katie’s point, this also does require some thoughtfulness and some planning, this can’t just be like an impulsive, like, I had a bad day at work on Thursday and Friday, I’m going to accept a job wherever offers next. So one of the things that I occasionally get a question from clients is, you know, Would you care for me if I wasn’t paying for your time? And my answer to that is usually, the some version of my care exists, because I care for you, as a human being, a lot of what you’re paying for is, for my experience, any wisdom that I’m able to bring, and most of all, that you’re ensuring that I’m prepared, that I’m taking care of my life enough that I am ready for the sessions to be able to take on what you’re bringing in, what you’re paying for is the thoughtfulness in the preparation for our time together for that care come out. And it’s with that same kind of intention that I’m looking at this kind of a question of, its being able to put that kind of thoughtfulness in place for yourself, to be able to be in a position where you’re able to make a shift to continue to take care of yourself. And if you can see beyond, you know, a bad experience with a couple of clients, you can see beyond a bad experience with a supervisor or toxic coworker or a mountain of paperwork, whatever it is, and say, you know, overall, this was a bad day, but this is still an environment where I can continue to show up and have that care, as I define it for myself, does help to answer some of that question when it comes to how do we stick with some of these things on not great days?
Katie Vernoy 12:09
I like the distinction between not great days, and not great work environments. I think, if the not great days stack up, it could be that it’s not great work environment, or it could be that you’ve chosen something that aligns when you’re fully resourced and doesn’t align when you’re not. And so some of this and we have a lot of different episodes on Systems of Self Care or Addressing Burnout, or Is it Burnout or Depression? like we have a lot of different episodes that can talk about addressing burnout specifically. And, and some of that is being in the wrong place. But some of it really is working without that thoughtfulness, and the deliberateness that Curt’s talking about with taking care of yourself so that you can continue to show up. I want to extend that even further. Because I think, folks, and maybe this is a very Western idea or something that’s, that’s very present in the United States. But I think folks have this notion around, I have to be growing and expanding and getting better and creating the next big thing. And I have to keep increasing my revenue, or you know, those types of things. And I think when, when we see it rather as seasonal, or seasons of our career, I think that can be helpful. I was talking to a dear colleague recently, and she was talking about coming out of a toxic work environment and basically, not cruising, and I wouldn’t say it was that but like, creating something that was very doable. There wasn’t challenge, there wasn’t growth, and I’m overstating it to make the point. But it was something where there was restfulness in how she chose to do her work, you know, the client, she chose to work with the time she spent on the work, she was very, very deliberate in charging premium fee so there was fewer clients and creating that space. And then after that timeframe, when she felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next big thing, she found another job and then was able to take on another piece of things in our profession. And so I really like that concept. Because there are a lot of folks who will be burnt out or they’ll be ready to quit. And instead of taking care of themselves, they’ll jump into programs that are designed to be a lot of work to get to some place in the in the future. You know, like, do all this work and make a lot of money. And when someone’s burned out or when someone’s ready to quit, they may not have those reserves. And so you have to assess that for yourself. But if you don’t have reserves, you don’t necessarily have to make drastic changes. You may just have to back off a little bit and refocus on your life for a while rather than your career. If you can do the work, you can set your set your career in a doable space. Does that make sense?
Curt Widhalm 15:06
It does. I wonder how much of this is really just coming from a place of privilege, though. But…
Katie Vernoy 15:13
Curt Widhalm 15:14
for those of us who have survived, as long as we have, we talked about this in our state of the profession episode this summer that a lot of the younger therapists as compared to other age demographic, thinking like maybe I don’t want to stay in this profession. And that’s going to come at a time when you don’t have a lifetime of savings built up. But you are more sensitive to having to work unpaid or underpaid jobs, that you might not be in a position to make some of these decisions where your responsibilities to family might be a lot bigger proportion of your life, especially if you have young children. So creating the space in here also for those, and remembering back to the time in our lives where we weren’t quite so privileged to be making some of these decisions, I know in leaving the agencies that I did at the times that I did, and being unhappy in some of the work environments, I don’t think I ever felt that I was in the wrong field completely. It was very much recognizing that there are good places and good opportunities that I was doing what I wanted to do in creating healing in the world. It was just not in that particular environment. And it was recognizing that one agency is not representative of all agencies. And part of that perspective, once again, comes back to community, it comes back to the ability to have trusted peers have, you know, your own therapy, to not think about therapy all day long, to have other hobbies and interests that go and make you, you. And I recognize particularly for this, you know, last year and a half during the pandemic, that a lot of people’s abilities to go and do things that aren’t therapy have been shut down. And a lot of us filled in that extra time with more work. And so, you know, we’ve been talking about this, the faculty level at the university that I teach in that one of the issues that we’re anticipating with students is how much that they’re used to working now, and being able to accrue their hours towards graduation and licensure by being able to fit in more, because everything’s over telehealth. And when we inevitably returned to more of a program wide face to face role in things that students are going to have a shift in and struggle with how’s, how much slower things are going to be accruing for them. I say all this to say that it’s really being able to take that step outside of yourself, which requires downtime, which requires an ability to get a different viewpoint on what you’re doing, not in the sense of making what is happening around you okay. But doing it in a sense of Are you okay with what’s happening around you?
Katie Vernoy 18:36
When we’re looking at self assessment, I agree, we need to have downtime, we need to have space. And as you were talking, I was really resonating with this concept around privilege, and how at different stages of your career, at different places in your life or different socioeconomic status, different societal pressures and levels of oppression, like I think that this challenge is going to be different for different folks. And so in looking at that, and looking at having some downtime to make an assessment, or looking at finding ways to make your agency job better, or finding ways to make your career more sustainable, I think we have to really honor that when you’re feeling stuck, when you see no other way to do what you’re doing. It’s very hard to do any of this. And so, if we can’t get any space at all, I think it’s going to be very hard for people to not quit. And when I’ve been in those situations, whether it was when I was in an agency job or just other periods of my life, I think the way that I didn’t quit when I didn’t quit was finding the smallest space that I could preserve for my own. Or maybe, maybe it’s better said a small space, but the biggest space that I could preserve for my own to plan for what I did next, whether it’s doing that assessment and finding out whether you’re able to do what you want to do in the place that you’re at, but also to have your exit plan, because I worked in community mental health, and I did not feel like I could just quit and start a private practice and do all the things like I wasn’t able to do that. I wasn’t able to take that on that financial risk on. So for me, it was carving out a little tiny piece of time, where I started figuring out what I needed to do to start a private practice. And I started figuring out what I needed to do to get on insurance panels, or whatever it was, at certain points, it was carving a little bit of time to look for jobs, when I was still wanting to move from place to place and having people around me hold me accountable to finding a new job, I think people get really caught in well, another agency might be just as bad, it doesn’t make a difference. And I really argue that that’s not necessarily the case. And that you need to talk to your colleagues and your cohorts and that kind of stuff to see what what the experience is because sometimes just taking that little bit of a, a little bit of time to put in an application or to make a plan for your exit, or whatever it is, can be the way that you stay. Because it gives you a breath of fresh air, like, I’m gonna have my escape hatch. And I think I even called it that when I started my private practice, or when I started applying for other jobs, like I have my escape hatch, and it just meant that I wasn’t stuck, there was an endpoint, it was a nebulous endpoint, but it was an endpoint. And I think that does help.
Curt Widhalm 21:43
I have found that, you know, emotionally taking vacations is appropriate. That getting away from work. You know, as much as our profession is a calling, as much as we’re deeply, emotionally invested in the work that we do with our clients. And whether we get a return on that emotional investment or not. The end of the day, it’s still a job, that it takes a certain kind of ability to show up for that job, as compared to many others, takes a certain level of awareness, it takes a lot of ability to care and recharge for yourself. And in a number of our episodes before we’ve talked about that self care is not an option. Self Care is a discipline. And I can speak for myself on this there, when I go on vacation, I like to completely not deal with work as much as I can to really be separated from it. Even if it’s just like one day on a on a weekend of like, here’s my day to go spend in the kitchen doing things where there’s a beginning, middle and an end. And it’s practical and delicious. These are the kinds of things that at least recharged me for the next day of work. It’s, and this has been particularly hard during COVID of, Oh, well, I got nothing else to do. So I might as well throw another couple clients on my schedule, or I might as well dive into this thing. And then just like anything else we can become so enveloped in whatever our work or what our interests are that it just consumes us and leaves us not wanting to look at it at all. And that’s not unique to our profession. It’s not even unique to jobs, it can be done with hobbies, it can be done with side hustles. That the key is balance. And it’s finding what your right balance is as Katie was describing as I’m describing of like taking some intentional rest time away from it.
Katie Vernoy 24:02
I’ve I’ve talked to a number of clinicians who had not taken vacations for years. And I would call a day off a day off not necessarily a vacation day, Curt. So I think you also need to take a real vacation.
Curt Widhalm 24:19
Katie Vernoy 24:20
But I think that there are there are many different reasons people don’t take time off work. One is potentially they don’t get paid and that that income is needed. And and that’s that’s relevant. And I think there are different conversations that we’ve had and we’ll link to them in the show notes about money and trying to make sure that you’re earning more money and that kind of stuff, and planning your money based around taking vacations. But the other thing that I’ve really seen is there are folks who either just don’t even think about it, they don’t plan ahead and they just don’t schedule the time away. And I’m not talking like a Caribbean cruise, I’m talking about even just staying home and watching Netflix and chilling for a week and not answering your phone, whatever it is, whatever you can afford, actually vacating your work, I think is important. But people won’t do it because my clients need me, subconsciously, maybe it’s I don’t deserve it. And I think and this speaks to and we probably have an episode early on where I talk about sacrificial helping, but it’s it’s this relationship that we have to ourselves and our work that I think can get in the way. And really being able to address that I think is, you know, what I’m thinking is kind of our last points that we’ll make on this is if you’re constantly sacrificing yourself, if you’re constantly putting yourself in this place where you’re doing, doing for your clients, for others in your life, more so than you’re doing for yourself, self care doesn’t necessarily land on your list. And it also doesn’t, it’s not necessarily sufficient, because you’re constantly in this place of less than and of service, and you’re not necessarily feeding yourself. And I’m not talking about folks who find great joy and meaning in helping people, that is exactly why I’m in the profession. It’s that that is who I am, that is all that I am. And I will sacrifice everything else in my life to that purpose. I think that becomes really hard. So when we’re in this place, and I think this can happen, when we have clients that are in high crisis, it can happen when especially early in our careers when we’re feeling like our clients are very dependent on us and and we think we have to rescue them all. Or maybe that was just me, that, that that sacrificial piece can come in, and that that’s not sustainable by any stretch. And so I think it’s important to also I guess, to say, looking at the relationship you have with yourself and the work, and maybe go into back what Curt said like it’s a job. It’s an awesome job. It’s a job that is very meaningful and can be very powerful and make a big difference in the world. But it’s your job. It’s not who you are.
Curt Widhalm 27:10
Yeah, it’s not an identity, and…
Katie Vernoy 27:12
It’s not your only identity. Because we are saying that everybody’s modern therapist, so we’ve given them we’ve given them an identity point.
Curt Widhalm 27:21
Okay, fair, fair. And since it’s not your only identity, it’s not the only identity that you should be shaping. It’s not the only one that you should be subscribing to. And it’s dealing with that imposter syndrome of people who’ve honed that part of their identities, especially in your early career when you’re looking at people who’ve been in the field 10-20-30-40-50-60 years, that part of how they got there is going through what you’re going through now. So form all of your identities.
Katie Vernoy 27:56
Spend time with all of them.
Curt Widhalm 27:58
So if you have questions for us or would like to suggest an episode, as you can tell from several of our last episodes, we are responding to our listeners. And you can reach out to us on our social media or through our website mtsgpodcast.com. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy
Katie Vernoy 28:19
Thanks again to our sponsor SimplePractice.
Curt Widhalm 28:21
SimplePractice is the leading private practice management platform for private practitioners everywhere. More than 100,000 professionals use SimplePractice to power telehealth session, schedule appointments, file insurance claims, market their practice and so much more. All on one HIPAA compliant platform.
Katie Vernoy 28:39
Get your first two months of SimplePractice for the price of one when you sign up for an account today. This exclusive offer is valid for new customers only. Please note that we are a paid affiliate for SimplePractice so we’ll have a little bit of money in our pocket. If you sign up at this link: simplepractice.com/therapyreimagined. And that’s where you can learn more.
Curt Widhalm 29:00
This episode is also sponsored by Revkey.
Katie Vernoy 29:04
Revkey specializes in working with mental health professionals like you to increase not only clicks to your website but helps you find your ideal patients. From simple startup packages and one time consultations to full digital marketing management services Revkey can help you run successful digital marketing ads. Revkey creates customized packages and digital marketing budget recommendations that fit your business needs.
Curt Widhalm 29:28
You’ll never receive a data dump report that means nothing to you. Instead, Revkey provides clear concise communication about how your digital marketing ads are performing through meetings or video updates recorded just for you. Revkey is offering $150 off any setup fees for Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide listeners.
Katie Vernoy 29:44
You can find more at Revkey.com and make sure to mention that you’re a Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide listener.
Thank you for listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. Learn more about who we are and what we do at mtsgpodcast.com. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter, and please don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of our episodes.