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Allies in Recovery: Use and Overuse of Collateral Support

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Burnout exists among practitioners & caregivers for those carrying a mental health diagnosis. Our allies, collateral contacts, and both natural and artificial supports are all susceptible to burnout. This presentation is designed to prevent and disrupt behaviors that contribute to burnout among people working with psychiatric disabilities. In doing so, burnout will be evaluated two-fold: 1) caregiver burnout, & 2) practitioner burnout, to improve continuity of care and uninterrupted service delivery by systems of care, family members, and organizations which provide mental health treatment. This article follows the assumption that when burnout decreases among allies in recovery, the quality of life of people carrying a mental health diagnosis will improve.

There are several stages of burnout. Each step is visible to a third party vested in the care of people with psychiatric disabilities and to the consumer receiving services. Burnout is also a visceral sensation to the person experiencing this symptom. The symptom is a product of inadequate self-care, self-awareness, and tolerance of extreme exhaustion and repetition of behaviors, circumstances, and unfortunate turns in a person’s recovery. Burnout is experienced in several ways by caregivers and practitioners. All allies in the recovery process can be victims of burnout. Still, in most cases, it is very much preventable with experience in practicing mental health treatment and with access to psychoeducation of their family members’ diagnosis.

In my recovery, I have observed burnout among my treatment team. It is painful to watch, especially knowing I might have contributed to the problem. While some might term this self-awareness, no such feelings should be experienced by consumers. Therefore, it isn’t a question of depth of client insight into their own behaviors. Instead, consumers can focus on their own feelings without worrying about their treatment team’s emotional state. I am not suggesting abusing your staff, therapist, or otherwise, but instead, your treatment’s focus shouldn’t include the biases and insecurities of your workers.

Enough focus, consideration, and insight will need to be cultivated by consumers to work on their own stuff.

I have also observed burnout among family members and friends with a vested interest in my mental health treatment. I have seen friends abandon my journey and walk away because it was just too difficult. When unpacking the negative patterns that contribute to burnout among friends and family. Essential to consider age, maturity, education, and resources available to the ally to continue investing in their loved one or friend who may not produce for themselves. People carrying a diagnosis may or may not contribute in the same way their healthy counterparts do in various areas of the social & interpersonal landscape allies journey alongside their peers struggling with a diagnosis.

Simply put, healthy clinicians and healthy family members will provide better treatment and care to their loved ones. It is demoralizing for people carrying a diagnosis to work towards their recovery and feel as though they are a burden while seeking out help. Healthy workers are less likely to abuse or mistreat people carrying a mental health diagnosis or take out their personal problems on vulnerable groups that are institutionalized. The benefits are without bounds, but ultimately, it is the quality of life of people carrying the most critical diagnosis in improving.

Burnout is a temporary symptom. It may signal to some workers to seek work in another field. Still, it should also gesture to the profession without proper administration of treatment delivery. Expecting positive outcomes in care & hiring or retaining staff who has the skills to provide treatment without collapsing is irrational and unlikely without further research. Self-care practices and best practices in mental health care go a long way in reversing this trend. From both the peer perspective and the professional lens, we need to continue researching how burnout can be prevented without clients experiencing harm from staff or negligent family members who have had enough caregiving for their family members due to an increase in uncontrolled symptoms or otherwise.

About the Author

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association.

Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia.

"I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others."

"In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."

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