I’m quitting my job as a family therapist.
Quitting, despite my fiancé still having no job to speak of, after being furloughed since March (the job isn’t coming back, is it?).
Quitting, despite the comfortable salary, the health benefits, the paid mileage.
Quitting, despite this gnawing fear that my family will end up with no savings, no assets, no safety net.
Quitting because my job as a mental health therapist is damaging my mental health.
And I’m not quitting to go work in a completely different field.
I’m quitting so I can do the kind of work I’ve wanted to do since I began my path down this vocational road 5 years ago.
I’m going to work at a private group practice, where I’m only paid for the clients I see and I’m basically my own boss, outside of the required supervision meetings to keep working toward my independent license.
Up until this point, for the last two months, I’ve been working maddening hours at a company with expectations that are far beyond what any reasonable person could be expected to accomplish—especially during a year where a pandemic, civil uprising, and political turmoil make “business as usual” an extremely damaging mindset to embrace.
To put it plainly, I’ve been downright miserable for the last few months, which says a lot because I’ve only been there for a few months. I felt within 2 weeks that I might have made a mistake taking this job, but felt incredibly guilty and unsure about my judgment. How could I make that kind of assessment after less than a month?!
But. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that my gut often knows well before my mind does.
This job has spread me thinner than Bilbo Baggins’ butter and it’s affecting not only my happiness, but my health, my mental wellbeing, my relationships, and my outlook on life.
I won’t go into details about what my job requires of me, but I will say that this particular job is the type that exemplifies the social worker with way too much to do, way too little time to do it, and an upper-management structure that has enough distance from the work that they can’t see how unsustainable and destructive their expectations are.
I started this job on September 14 and have been contemplating leaving since the beginning of October.
One of my colleagues, who was hired on the same day as me, had her last day yesterday.
Another colleague, who had surprisingly been in the job for 2+ years, quit within a week of us starting.
I know of at least one other colleague who is actively weighing her options.
All the while, our supervisor is sending mixed messages:
- Practice self care and set boundaries around your work schedule, do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
- You should be scheduling sessions with your clients on Friday afternoons and evenings if they cancel a session with you earlier in the week, and if they need to see you on the weekend, do what you can to make that work.
It’s taken a lot for me to feel like I’m “safe” quitting and taking on 100% contractor work.
What really sealed the deal for me was an experience of laying in bed this past Sunday night, body tense with anxiety, as I tried to hold back tears of anguish thinking about the work week ahead. I’d already been offered the position with the private practice, but was trying to wait until I had a decent enough caseload (number of clients I’m seeing consistently) before making the leap. But as I laid in bed, my fiancé wrapped his arms around me and tried to comfort me, and I knew that I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
The guilt I feel for leaving a job so soon after starting is sticky and thick with and internalized sense of duty to always consider others before I consider myself. I felt—and still feel—guilty for doing what’s best for me. The thing helping me walk through that guilt is a lesson I’ve had to learn over, and over, and over: I am no good for others if I’m no good to myself. Burnout is a real occupational hazard for social workers & therapists, and it’s something that can ultimately compromise the work they’re doing with clients, which may or may not cause actual harm.
Me laying in bed crying while wishing each and every one of my clients would cancel their sessions is not an effective therapist who is able to hold space for deep emotions or promote actual change.
Me being irritable, rushed, frenzied and under-prepared is not a sustainable path toward a fulfilling career or providing effective care for others.
And on top of it all, despite my vocation being a source of pride, meaning, and deep value, I am not my job.
I am not my job.
I. Am not. My job.
And to stay in a role that promotes a work/life imbalance that says otherwise is not the role for me.
So, here I go. It’s scary because my income isn’t certain or guaranteed. But then again, nothing is. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that any job can disappear at any time. Why put so much time, energy, and effort into something that will take and take and take while giving little more than a paycheck in return?
Anyway, it’s been a journey, y’all. I quit — and it feels so good.