Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Avoiding burnout -- Distancing yourself from clients

To maintain some sanity for yourself as a case manager you need to keep your life separate from your clients. Have hobbies, hang out with friends, pick up running. Maybe not keep a journal about your work with them. Hmmm. Well, for me is therapy. My supervisor once told me that he feels bad that after a while of doing his job as case manager he got used to the pain. It’s a situation when you still empathize with the client but a part of you has grown numb to the pain – to the level that you are able to do your job and come back the next day. It’s part of the emotional distancing which slows down the burnout effect.

As case managers we constantly deal with peoples’ pain in form of illness, loss of family, abuse, poverty, loneliness. We’re not all therapists but we usually hear a good deal about people’s lives. I still hear stories that shock me. But experience has guided me to try and distract myself so it doesn’t take over my brain.

During my second month at my agency I scheduled an appointment with a client, one of the first I worked with, to apply together at the state office for food stamps. It was going to be the second time that I would be going with a client and advocate for him at this office (the time before another case manager had come along). I lost sleep thinking about it, specifically because I wanted something to go right for this man. He was in his 50s, and had had to quit his job a few weeks beforehand because he wasn’t physically able to do it anymore. Soon thereafter he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He had only a distant cousin in the city for support. I was hoping that along with food stamps it would be possible for him to receive medical coverage too, based on the severity of his health condition. Unfortunately, he was only eligible for food stamps at the time we applied.

Some situations, like those you know the client doesn’t have a close support system apart from you, are harder to process. Then you realize you’re the person the client is looking to for support. It’s not easy to consistently be a rock for other people. I see people doing this for decades and I have the utmost respect.

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