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Therapists: Thank You for Being You

Vol. 23 • Issue 25 • Page 10

Geriatric Function

So often people don't get the appreciation they deserve. Having traveled to almost 20 states this year and seeing therapists from all areas of care, we can say from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Thank you for what you do and thank you for appreciating our articles, seminars and this wonderful profession. This article is dedicated to you.

Our fear is that the health care milieu might get a little rougher for a while and because of this, it is easy to get frustrated or burnt out. So this article is filled with ideas on to keep you fresh and excited about our profession.

Burnout is defined as "to fail or wear out or become exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength or resources." Like all our other articles, we must start with evaluation. So ask yourself if you are:

Excited? If you are excited about what you do, if you are progressing, if you are open to new experiences, if you enjoy your work, if you can list 10 projects that you want to do or are working on and you mourn what you can't do, if you are future-oriented and you feel in charge-you meet the criteria for being excited about your profession!

Existing? If you are just existing, you are at a plateau. You are content with the level of information that you currently have. If this is the case, you have an advanced case of senioritis. You feel like you are in a rut (and the only difference between a rut and a grave is the dimensions). You take a look at your calendar for the upcoming week and it is blank. Instead of scheduled time to read the latest evidence being published in the profession, you have several "trashy" novels lined up.

Exhausted? If you are exhausted, you often say to yourself,"You mean this is only Tuesday?" Everything seems to take more energy. You have nonspecific physical pains, reduced productivity, resistance to change, poor relationships, insomnia and even (gasp) feeling indifference or hatred for your work.

Things are pretty bad if you make it to the exhaustion phase. We have included the 3 phases that are present when one is experiencing the symptoms of burnout. Take a look and see if you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of exhaustion so you can take action:

Phase I

• Tired in the morning and it is a real effort to go to work;

• You work longer because of excessive attention to detail;

• You become competitive (how many units did you bill?);

• You may become self-righteous and blame others;

• Your frustration level increases and you lose your sense of humor.

Phase II

• You refer to patients as a diagnosis (the total hip in room 304);

• You show anger openly;

• You become rigid and inflexible;

• You feel the job is useless.

Phase III

• Total disgust;

• Boredom;

• Cynicism;

• Void of emotional involvement.

The causes behind burnout include too many difficult cases, too much responsibility, no understanding of how the hierarchy operates, lack of knowledge or adequate training, no outside interests and hobbies, lack of support systems, and lack of recognition of job performance.

Now that you know the causes, treatment begins by accepting where we are and recognizing the problems, just like treating a patient. The second step is to work on the causes that apply to you. For example, if you are working in geriatrics, spend time taking courses and reading literature in the geriatric area to become better trained.

If you need support, start a group such as a geriatric book club. Campo states that physical therapy jobs with high demands and low control increase the risk of turnover, pain and coronary heart disease.1 Another therapy-specific article by Mandy shows that therapists employed for 5-9 years have the highest rate of burnout, with therapists who have worked up to two years the second largest group to experience burnout. They found that the following factors enhance burnout: quality/quantity of work, responsibility/authority, job satisfaction, and work role in the organization.2

Deckerds's article gives great suggestions for combating burnout. The article encourages therapists to discover who they are, along with their unique gifts, talents and joys, and to use these talents to excel in their knowledge economy. So if you want our advice, nurture and master those people skills.3

Wiklund also has a great list in helping therapists take charge:

• Take charge: Balance work and social life;

• Affirmations: You are not insane;

• Get to know yourself: What you do to contribute to burnout (e.g., long hours, taking on too much responsibility);

• Prioritizing: Set boundaries, adopt new behaviors;

• Choice of track-joy about the future.4

The final article for therapists was written by Svalina, who found forgiveness of self appears to be the most important to health, yet the most difficult to achieve. So we need to be able to let some things go and forgive ourselves our shortcomings:

• Focus on immediate issues;

• Assume troubles are temporary;

• Credit yourself when things go right;

• Externalize your failures;

• Take regular vacations;

• Get daily physical exercise;

• Use support groups;

• Take lunch and breaks, and geographically separate for lunch;

• Develop outside interests and hobbies;

• Look for humor in situations.

Make a growth contract today to work on yourself. How can you take care of someone else if you do not take care of yourself? We wish you health and renewed energy for the holidays and the New Year ahead. 

References are online at

Carole Lewis is co-owner of the Center of Evidence and consultant to Professional Sportcare and Rehab. She lectures exclusively for Great Seminars and Books and Great Seminars Online ( and She is editor-in-chief of Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation ( and an adjunct professor at George Washington University Department of Geriatrics, College of Medicine. Keiba L. Shaw is associate professor at Nova Southeastern University's College of Health Care Sciences Physical Therapy Department Hybrid Entry Level DPT Program, Tampa, FL.


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