Hey, welcome back y’all. Glad to have you as always. Today, we’re talking about a very important topic, a topic that is highly relevant these days over the past two years, and really always a relevant topic. The topic is burnout among psychologists, specifically school psychologists.
My guest today is Dr. Geremy Grant. Geremy is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist with a Doctorate in School Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. He currently serves as the Clinical Assessment Support Expert at Riverside Insights. Geremy has a passion for social justice and desires to bridge racial, ethnic, and cultural gaps in education to ensure equitable outcomes for all students. Outside of work, Geremy enjoys spending time with his wife and his pet parrot.
We talk about a number of things here during the episode today. We define burnout. We talk about what burnout looks like in psychologists. We talk about both macro and micro strategies to deal with burnout. The hope, of course, is that you are able to take away some of these strategies and then it gets you thinking about how to decrease the possibility of burnout in your life.
Let me jump to my conversation with Dr. Geremy Grant.
Hey, Geremy, welcome to the podcast.[00:02:00] Dr. Grant: Hi Dr. Sharp, thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here. I really look forward to speaking to you today.
Dr. Sharp: Likewise. As we get started, though, I feel like, as 2 Jeremys, we have to agree that we’re going to call one another Jeremy. We can’t have any hierarchy here. We’re in this together.
Dr. Grant: I appreciate that. I always feel like dimension can’t handle two Jeremys in one place. So let’s just see if we’ll be able to hold everything together.
Dr. Sharp: I like that. Okay. If I start to feel the space-time continuum rippling or anything, I’ll let you know. I hope you will do likewise.
I’m so glad that you’re here. We’re tackling a topic that I don’t think I’ve dedicated a full episode to, even though there could be many episodes dedicated to burnout and managing oneself within practice. So I’m glad you’re here. I’d love to start as I usually do and just ask for you, what is so compelling about this topic that you have chosen to spend time and energy on it?
Dr. Grant: That’s a really good question. I think coming from a helping profession, being a psychologist, we often give ourselves to our patients or clients or colleagues, and that’s what we do. We support others and we help others. And that does take a toll on us, whether we notice it or not. We help other people so much, sometimes we neglect to help ourselves, and sometimes the situations that we’re placed in at work can really make things stressful for us and make things challenging for us. I’ve personally experienced burnout in the past and I know other practitioners have as well. And I think that it’s really important for us to help ourselves as much as we give and help others.
Dr. Sharp: It is so true. [00:04:00] I can hear the audience nodding just in that brief introduction, especially over the last two years. I know burnout is an ever-present concern, but man, the past two years have been rough, especially in schools. I hear so many stories from school staff about being overwhelmed at all levels. Does that match what you’re seeing too?
Dr. Grant: That’s exactly right. I’m a member of APA and a couple of other organizations. I read as many articles as I can about what the field is looking like and what the landscape is like. Even just in January, I read an article from APA that was talking about how burnout and exposure to stress are just so high across industries. It’s really to a point where a lot of practitioners are considering leaving their roles. And that’s disheartening in a sense because as helping professionals, we would hope that we would have the support and the ability to overcome that burnout, whether it be institutional support or support from colleagues or from people that we’re working for, to push through some of it, but like you said, with COVID being a huge exacerbating factor, it’s really tough for a lot of practitioners to persist.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s been a rough couple of years for a lot of us. I know we’re going to be looking through the lens of school psychologists today, although I would imagine a lot of these principles are going to extend to psychologists in private practice or just practitioners in general. So I’m ready to dive in. I need some burnout strategies myself. So if nothing else, this is going to be a selfish interview so I can figure out how to manage my own burnout.
Dr. Grant: There’s nothing wrong with [00:06:00] that. It’s always important to indulge yourself.
Dr. Sharp: Okay, thank you. There you go. We’re off to a good start.
So, let’s talk about burnout in a broader sense. Let’s do some definitions actually because that term gets thrown around, burnout, and the other side of the coin, self-care. I’m curious from your perspective, how are you defining burnout?
Dr. Grant: That’s a really great question. Generally speaking, if I had to define it, I would say, you’re looking at physical and or mental exhaustion- that prolonged fatigue that someone is feeling. And that that’s looking at stress someone’s facing over time. That stress isn’t going away, it isn’t changing and you’re having trouble adapting to it.
Typically, if you’re thinking about what it looks like, I can imagine a decrease in motivation. So someone that really isn’t as engaged or as with it as they were before. Someone who isn’t as productive as they used to be. Maybe they go to work and if they had a project to do, and they were able to get seven done before and now they’re only getting one done and it’s a struggle. So that efficiency goes down. And then I think what you don’t see as the flip side of that kind of that apathy, that negative effect, maybe some frustration, whether it’s directed toward yourself or directed towards your organization or the people you’re working for.
So I think there’s, again with a lot of mood-based concerns, you have the physical things that you can see, and then you have those emotional pieces that you can’t see when it comes to burnout.
Dr. Sharp: How do you distinguish burnout from depression or is it possible to distinguish those two things?
Dr. Grant: That’s a really good point. Burnout isn’t a diagnosis formally recognized in DSM-V, but when you’re looking at some of the features of burnout, like how I mentioned that [00:08:00] decreased motivation, you could have trouble sleeping, low energy, fatigue, cynicism, it could look like depression. But I think it really comes down to the, how am I going to put this in a fair way? I think that it can look like depression. It might be able to be treated as if it’s depression, but diagnosable, is it depression? Likely not because the criteria is going to be a bit different. But I do think that some of the strategies that you use for depression remediation could be applicable for burnout as well.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Yeah, we’re going to get into strategies for sure. I know for myself, the times when I’ve experienced what I think was burnout, it felt like, I heard this term on the Tim Ferriss show at some point was it feels like tired and wired, like where I am both exhausted yet also highly anxious or ruminative at the same time or revved up and unable to sleep. And that’s a really weird place to be mentally and physically. That for me eventually goes to a place just sort of like numbness. And I wonder if that’s a… I don’t know, is that any common experience for folks who are experiencing burnout that you found?
Dr. Grant: That’s a really great point. I do think that there is that combination of anxiety, that antsiness. And some of that I imagine does come from the discomfort that an individual feels when they’re burnt out. So if we’re thinking about workplace burnout, that person is likely not satisfied with the position that they’re in terms of whether it be the structure or the responsibilities, and they could be anxious for that change.
So some of that anxiety could be looking for a chance to get away from that stress you’re feeling. And of course, if you’re feeling that stress and you’re anxious, that is going to impact your sleep pattern, that is going to [00:10:00] impact your ability to react to stressors as well. So, I do think that it is quite common when you look at burnout to have that antsiness, that anxiety, but then being worn out from that anxiety, and it’s kind of a cyclical pattern in a sense.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Then you’re not sleeping well, you’re more tired, you’re more worn out, less motivated. That’s a dangerous spin cycle. Is there anything to add as far as specificity to school, psychologists that you’ve seen, and how it manifests in that environment? If not, that’s okay. I’m just curious.
Dr. Grant: Sure. If I could broaden it out a little bit to a psychologist as a whole, one key piece that I hear that is pretty Qualmark is almost like a lack of empathy or a lack of care. So when we’re providing psychological services or therapeutic services, generally therapists are blank slates and we try to take on our patient’s emotions and we try to hold that for them. And when you’re burned out, you can’t even hold your own stuff together. So it’s going to be that much part of to try to hold someone else’s stuff as well.
So sometimes that can be if you’re providing therapy in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, God, I really don’t want to listen to this right now. I’m not in the place to hear this. I’m not in a place to manage this. So it can be doubting yourself and your ability to process what your patient is going through, or it can be more blunt saying, I just don’t care. I’m in a place that I’m so stressed and so low that I don’t even have the capacity to care for someone else. I’m struggling to care for myself.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. This is interesting. Sorry, I’m just laughing. But somehow my Siri just got triggered and is asking me questions here in my AirPods. So forgive me as I navigate that. But the thing that jumps out to me is that we talk about our [00:12:00] clients sometimes like, oh my gosh, I don’t want to see this client or I just, you know, people say, oh, I just can’t even, that kind of thing, like in dealing with parents or particular students or clients. I don’t know. It feels like it goes beyond that where you just have zero patience for the things that people are needing or dealing with. That capacity to support others is just completely gone.
Dr. Grant: That’s exactly right. And I didn’t want to jump to this point so soon, but I think this is such a great segue because that frustration that I think is underneath some of that I can’t even deal with, I don’t even want to hear it right now when I hear those thoughts, it sounds like unmet needs. It sounds like someone saying, how am I going to provide you support if I haven’t even gotten the support that I need to get through my stuff. And that’s when I started thinking about burnout.
You mentioned self-care practices, with burnout, a lot of the articles that I’ve read frame it as, hey, your burnout, these are some things you can do, but they never actually, I shouldn’t say never, it’s very rare that I also see it being viewed at a more macro level saying, what were the conditions that led to your burnout? So, instead of you being identified as the burnout problem, maybe there’s an organizational practice or an establishment’s practice that influences that burnout that you’re feeling.
Dr. Sharp: That is such a good point. And this is so timely. I just got off of an interview about context-driven conceptualization in our assessment process. I don’t know when these will air related to one another, but at least, temporarily they’re very close here for me. And so that makes me think about that. A lot of the time in our assessment process, we house [00:14:00] pathology within an individual rather than taking the broader context or environment into account. And it sounds like that’s something that you’re getting at with that idea that a lot of the articles don’t acknowledge. How do you actually change the system you’re in? Is that fair?
Dr. Grant: That’s it that’s exactly right. I think even when we just to circle back to your point about when we do a psychological assessment, it’s one thing to look at the individual and say, yes, they’re checking off these diagnostic criteria for talking about that form of assessment, but it’s another thing to really peel back those layers and say, this is the individual in this part of the concentric circle. What about family life? What about social life? What about their culture. Really getting a sense of all the influencing factors that led them to that diagnosis?
And again, we’re not saying burnout is a diagnosis, but it’s really important to do that because I do feel people can potentially feel like fingers are being pointed at them or that they’re being identified as a problem when there could be a lot of other factors that led them to the situation that they’re in and the feelings that they’re experiencing.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I think it’s really easy for us as relatively high-achieving professionals. I mean, anybody who’s a psychologist has done a lot of school and probably has some kind of implicit identity as an achiever or a doer or a helper, whatever it might be, maybe all of those. And then it turns into this self-criticism of, why can’t I handle this, and am I really burnt out? I just need to try harder. At least that’s the process that happens internally for me. I wonder if that’s something that is going on for others as well. Do you have thoughts on that at all?
Dr. Grant: Well, that’s a really wonderful point. I don’t [00:16:00] want to speak in too many generalizations, but when I think about graduate school and the training that we go through, oftentimes we have so many demands that are placed on us and it can be really tough when we see other individuals meeting those demands, they’re pushing through, they don’t even need as much support, or I should say it doesn’t seem like they need that much support because they might be getting it, but then we look at ourselves and might say, how come I can’t push through? How come I can’t do this?
I think that’s exactly what comes with being high achieving. Oftentimes there’s a correlation of a high independence that comes with that that really shows I’m high achieving. I can do this on my own. I don’t need the support. But at the end of the day, it’s really important for us especially if we’re talking about burnout to be receptive to that support. In the same way, our clients and patients are coming to us to receive help and they’re open to that, we need to model that it’s okay to go out and get that support if you do need it.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. It’s so hard to take our own advice. I know we’re going to get into some of those strategies, both macro and micro-level strategies, and some that are very specific to the assessment process, which I’m super curious to hear about. I wanted to touch on one thing though before we transition to some of that, which is this idea that we’re talking about before we started to record, this idea that a lot of, I don’t know, agencies or entities or employers maybe is another term will talk about helping employees prevent burnout, but not necessarily apply that day-to-day or walk the walk, I suppose. I wonder if you could comment on that at all and what you have [00:18:00] seen, especially in that school environment.
Dr. Grant: Sure. No, I think that’s a really good point. When we think about organizational support for managing burnout, and that’s one of the macro-level strategies that we’ll touch upon, the importance of the organization providing support. In some organizations, it can be the case where you might have one day that they provide you for collegial bonding and really engaging with your coworkers and getting a chance to actually work with them and know them as individuals, not just as colleagues who you consult with on cases or things on those lines, but that might just be one day or maybe two days out of the year.
There may not be a lot of conversation where people are checking in with staff regularly. I’m talking about more than just once in a school year, like really checking in with them and saying, how are you doing? Can we give staff an anonymous survey so they don’t have to feel threatened when they respond to see how are they actually feeling? What parts of their role do they love? What parts are stressful? You don’t really see too much of that organizational check-in and with COVID, I would imagine with demands for people’s work being so high, the workload being a lot higher and a lot more stressful, organizations likely want to see the product. It may not be thinking about I’m getting the product but at what cost for the individual that’s providing the service.
Dr. Sharp: That’s a really good point. I just want to emphasize that. I’m getting the product, but at what cost to the person providing it? I just want to let that sit for a second because I think that’s true. And I get it from both sides. As a business owner with a lot of folks here in private practice, I understand that we’ve got to do the work, right? That’s what keeps things moving. And it’s really hard to do our work in particular when you’re just [00:20:00] completely maxed out. It’s a both-end I suppose,
Dr. Grant: That’s exactly right. I think when we are thinking about how to support individuals and I guess I can talk about some of the macro-level pieces if that’s okay with you to move into that since we kind of touched upon it. I think one of the pieces that are really important is for organizations to really provide a really clear line of support for employees, to really give employees a streamlined way to reach out to someone, whether that be the supervisor saying, hey, I am here for you.
If you go through something challenging at work during your day, I’m here for you. Even though I’m your supervisor, and I may evaluate you, you still can come to me for these pieces, if you need mentorship or support because that’s another huge point. If you have a supervisor, you may be a bit nervous to reach out to them about feelings of burnout, because they also evaluate you. And this goes back to our point of high-achieving. If I look for support, am I being viewed as weak? The last person you want to think of you as weak would be your supervisor.
So really making sure that there’s a clear line of support for employees. I think that’s one of the main macro-level supports that an organization can provide.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. How do EAPs fall into that or mental health services in general for school employees? Is that a widespread offering across the like… Here’s the context. We live in a town where our school district is very focused on employee mental health and they have their own almost separate insurance panel just for school employees. They have a pretty robust system of support. So I’m curious if [00:22:00] that’s the case in most places or if that’s more of an anomaly.
Dr. Grant: That’s a really interesting point that this is actually the first time that I’m hearing of something like that. I think that that is wonderful that you have a specific mental health board specifically for education practitioners. I think that’s wonderful. Because, of course, they come with their own needs.
But I do think the general piece of the EAP, I think the EAP or employers contracting out with different mental health providers, I think that that can be one way for sure that that support can be put in place, that streamlined support that I was referencing. And it may actually be less threatening, especially since it’s a third party providing the support and it’s not you going to a supervisor, you going to your leadership and saying, hey, can I talk to you about this? You’re going to someone who has the training to provide the support and they’re separate from your organization. So that also may reduce some of the stigma and the stress that comes with reaching out.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Just think about how tough that might be, like you said, to reach out to a supervisor, someone who’s in that dual role of also evaluating the employee when they’re struggling. That’s risky.
Dr. Grant: That’s risky, and it definitely is challenging. I think a segue piece to this about how you were mentioning EAPs and then having these specific boards for mental health, if your organization doesn’t have that, I think that the next macro-level strategy would be advocacy.
Oftentimes when we’re feeling that burnout and especially if, again, it’s the fingers being pointed at you like, hey, you’re feeling the burnout, you need to do something about it, and the organization’s concerns still stay the same way, advocacy could be a good way to find your voice, to change that narrative of maybe feeling victimized or feeling as if you’re not heard to actually using your voice and feeling heard.
So I do think advocacy is great with social media, whether it be through [00:24:00] amazing community that you build with the testing psychologist podcast with your 9,000 followers, with having that or using other methods of social communication or social media, I think that you definitely can find groups that can normalize and validate what you’re going through, but also that can help you advocate for change within the field that you’re working in.
Dr. Sharp: Can we drill down on that a little bit more because I hear that word a lot, advocacy. We need to advocate for ourselves. I totally agree. As a field, we need to advocate. This may be a simple question and a hard question at the same time, but how do we actually do that? Like, if we’re talking about a school psychologist employee in X district in Nebraska or something, what does that actually look like in practice when you say like advocate for?
Dr. Grant: That’s a really good point. You’re right. People do say that term as if it is just you advocate and magically everything becomes copacetic. The premise of advocating really at first could be connecting with others who have a similar mission or a similar value set, and they also want to work towards a similar point of change.
We know through either media, through news outlets, or through these governing bodies, like APA and NASP that practitioners across the board are feeling burnt out like we said. So you’re not going to be the only one that’s feeling it.
So if you are that school psychologist in Nebraska in that district, but you also know of other school psychologists in other districts, if you’re comfortable with it, I would say, reach out, see how they’re doing if you have that relationship with them. And if you see that there are themes like, Hey, in [00:26:00] this district, they’re also feeling very similar to me, I would say to go to your state chapter for APA or NASP and see if you can then meet with those appointed individuals in then that state chapter who are there to advocate on behalf of the practitioners in that state. So making your voice known to them, and then they can amplify that voice at the state level, and then it can have ripple effects going forward.
I think day-to-day advocacy could also be done within the organization as well. School psychologists do assessments, but oftentimes you may have diagnosticians, speech and language pathologists also doing assessments, also doing therapy sometimes. So some of the demands can be not the same, but similar. I think meeting with them and also seeing what they’re going through, how they’re managing it, and seeing what changes they also are looking for and see if you can combine your voices together and go to your district’s leadership and you can see if any changes can be made that way as well.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. The thing that’s jumping out to me and I hope you can trust, I’m not trying to be contrarian or anything like that, but I think about, okay, so someone is in this place of feeling burned out or exhausted or whatever it might be, and then the thought of organizing some kind of advocacy movement might feel overwhelming to that person. I don’t know. That’s just a reaction I thought I’m noticing. I don’t know, have you seen this play out in real life, and how folks handle that?
Dr. Grant: I can say when individuals are burned out, and I appreciate you providing this distinction, to me, it’s going to be very similar to someone who has [00:28:00] that low motivation, who really has that trouble activating. You’re right there. They may view that advocacy piece as just one more piece of work that they cannot manage. So I do want to step back and preface this piece and say, the advocacy that I’m referencing ideally would be started when you notice those issues at the start with your role, you notice those pieces that you’re not satisfied with that you hope could be changed while you still have the mental and physical capacity to try to enact some change, rather than waiting until, Hey, I’m already in a crisis and now I can’t function.
That is similar to what we tell people in therapy. You want to practice the skills and practice to try to make that change before you actually are in that crisis mode.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, of course. Are there other macro-level strategies that we might talk about before we move to more personal or micro?
Dr. Grant: Sure. I think what school psychologists and this likely applies to also clinical psychologists and psychologists and private practice. I think one piece that can lead to burnout is when we have the same type of role day in, day out. For some individuals, that’s fine. They love just doing testing and they love just doing therapy. But for some people, we get into our fields because in grad school we do assessments, we do research, we do therapy, we do all these things and we’re like, wow, I can do all this stuff. Then when you get into your role, you realize, oh wait, I’m only doing testing. And this isn’t what graduate school was like. I thought I was going to do all this other stuff.
NASP actually talks about the importance of a comprehensive role and really making sure that you have different things that you can do, different elements that you can work on too to continue to grow. And also for things not to feel stale, so [00:30:00] things can be fresh. So if one aspect of your work is a little challenging, at least you have something that you might enjoy a bit more, something that might be more of a passion for you, because if you’re stuck just doing one type of work, hopefully, it’s a passion because then it is going to be that much more stressful because you don’t have another outlet to practice with.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. What does that look like, let’s just say for a school psychologist? I mean, what have you seen in terms of different roles that folks can occupy?
Dr. Grant: We have some individuals that might just be going through the assessment mill. They just test after test after test. And that’s all that they do.
For some organizations, especially now with COVID allowing for telehealth kind of models, some school psychologists also only do therapy. They’ll do therapy or behavioral management plans, and they’ll work with kids virtually. You can also see school psychologists that work for university schools. So they can be either individuals doing research and they’re training new practitioners like the new line of trainees, or they can actually be school psychologists working in schools that are affiliated with universities. I’ve seen that as well.
But generally, the individuals that have had a lot of enjoyment in their roles seem to have the most flexibility in terms of I can do some testing, I can do some therapy, I can do some additional training, I can mentor new interns, and things like that. They have different aspects of their roles so they can continue to grow and do different things day-to-day.
Dr. Sharp: I like that. I know in our practice I have found that folks really like engaging in supervision. That has been a rejuvenating activity for a lot of my clinicians. [00:32:00] I wonder if that’s broadly true to get a chance to maybe teach a little bit or give back and just not have to be so emotionally supportive or cognitively drained each day with the monotony of therapy or testing.
Dr. Grant: No, that actually is another…You read my mind. That’s another macro-level strategy that is really, I think important. Really making sure that organizations provide professional supervision or administrative supervision, some sort of supervision because that’s going to lend itself to professional growth, not just for the supervisee, but for the supervisor.
Your supervisee likely has been in grad school more recently. They might be more up on the latest evidence-based practices whereas you may not know all of it because you graduated from grad school, say 10 years ago, just throwing out a number. So, you might be able to then enhance your practice, but you’re also enhancing their practice.
It’s one of those things where you’re helping someone else, but as you said, it may not feel as taxing because it’s not the same emotional load as doing therapy with someone who’s going through a crisis or assessing someone for the purpose of having that evaluation be used for educational planning or something like that. You’re giving your skills to somebody in a different way.
Dr. Sharp: Right. It’s still putting out energy but in a different way. At least for us, it seems a little more energizing rather than draining most of the time.
Dr. Grant: That’s right. It depends on the supervisee.
Dr. Sharp: It depends on the supervisee.
Any other big picture things to think about before we transition to the micro-level?
Dr. Grant: Sure. One, and this is a funny story or a joke, but this goes [00:34:00] back to advocacy. School psychologists, I think notoriously can have either extremely beautiful offices or they can have no dedicated office. I don’t remember which professor of mine had said this, but she had a practicum in a graduate school program, and she would test in a closet on a beach ball. That’s her words, “test in a closet on a beach ball, working with children.”
And I was thinking about that and I was thinking, she was a practicum student, sure, but I’m sure the practitioners there also likely had a very similar setup, and just when we’re thinking about organizational change and what’s influencing our burnout, practitioner being mindful that even things like that, our space, the space that we’re allocated, that could also say a lot to us, even subconsciously about how valued we truly are versus how valued the organization says we are.
Dr. Sharp: Right. That’s so important. I don’t think I’ve heard worse stories about practice settings than from school psychologists. That story that you related has come up, it’s basically the same situation, just a different person. Like what did your closet look like basically is how that gets related. I’ve heard so many folks tell that same story, basically. But it’s such a good place. What does that communicate? We can say all that we want to say about limited resources and space in schools. I’m sure that there are folks on the other side who were like, we’re doing the best that we can and you’re practicing in a closet. Is there room to improve this a little bit somehow?
Dr. Grant: That’s exactly right. So, even those basic human ergonomics, even those basic pieces are so important. So [00:36:00] I think again, when organizations, especially if an organization is noticing that a staff member is stressed, or if the practitioner is noticing that they’re stressed, just take a step back. Just like you tell your patients and clients to take a step back, take that step back and really think about all the factors that are lending themselves to that burnout before you put the onus all on yourself because stress doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I would guarantee you that at least some part of that stress is coming from an outside force. So really looking at that and seeing what changes could be made.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Do you have any specific strategies and it’s okay if not, but have you run across specific strategies to solve that problem in particular in schools? Have you found anything that has worked over the years?
Dr. Grant: This might be a generality, but I think one thing, and this goes back to the utilization of the voice. I have some friends that are school psychologists, and I know of some instances where that kind of setup where we’re thinking about like workplace dissatisfaction, even with the setup if the organization isn’t told, Hey, I really want a different setup, if you don’t voice that to them, the assumption is going to be made that the setup is okay. A problem is not there until you tell me that it’s there.
I think one basic strategy would be, just bring that up to your supervisor. Bring that up to the leadership and say, Hey, literally for the logistics of testing, I need this much space because some of those kits can be huge. Or for therapy, I need this much space. To make that clear, it’s one thing to say your voice hasn’t been heard when you’ve made it clear, and it’s another thing to say you weren’t heard, but you haven’t actually brought up that concern before.
Dr. Sharp: Good point. Yes. We have to voice our concerns in some form for them to be known. I think it’s easy to [00:38:00] assume that people would just know that it’s not super cool to be working in a closet on a beach ball. Having been the leader of a practice for a number of years now, there are so many things that I kind of lose track of. Hopefully not that egregious, but I lose track of things that are a pain in the ass for people, and then they bring it to my attention and I’m like, oh yeah, that is pretty bad. Let’s find a way to fix that.
Dr. Grant: And I appreciate that piece too. I don’t want any listeners who are in that similar role as you where they manage an organization and they have supervisee is, I don’t want them to feel as if they’re supposed to notice every little thing, because of course no human can be that perfect. So I do want to acknowledge also that these schools, these prior practitioners that run private practices, these organizational leaders, have a lot of responsibilities. So oftentimes if someone is set up and they come into an org and everything seems okay, it’s going to be hard for them to really know the new challenges that someone’s facing unless it is voiced.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. I’m thinking of a situation. Gosh, just yesterday, literally an employee brought something up to me that was nowhere on my radar. I was just very grateful to have heard that. Now it’s a problem we can solve. But before that, I had no idea.
Let’s talk about more personal recommendations because, at the end of the day, you can only control yourself. That’s what we say. And so, if these big picture things maybe are tougher or even if they’re working, it sounds like there are more personal courses of action we can take as well. So I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that.
Dr. Grant: Sure, of course. I [00:40:00] think to start off on a more general sense to make sure it’s broadened out, not just for school psychologists. Of course, we have the typical pieces around self-care practices. So make sure that you’re eating healthy. I can say from experience as a graduate school student and practicing psychology, when you are on a crunch and you have to get to that appointment, you might grab the first thing you see, and that might not be the most healthy option.
I like to think of our bodies as cars. So we want to put sugar in our gas tank and think our car could function. So why would we put empty calories in our body and think we can get through a stressful therapy session cause therapy is taxing or stressful assessment practice cause assessment can be taxing. You have to do things in a very standardized way. So eating healthy. I would also say engaging in mindfulness as best you can. That’s a really important one, especially when it comes to noticing burnout.
So just doing some daily check-ins with yourself and saying, how am I feeling today? I know my coworker just said, Hey, how are you doing? And I said, oh fine. But am I really doing fine? Really checking on that. I see that you have a reaction, so I’m curious to know, did that resonate with you a little bit?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, it really did. The thing I think you’re probably seeing on my face is just, over the course of the pandemic, I have for better, for worse, just gotten pretty honest when people ask that question and it’s actually been like really refreshing to be able to check-in and say, my variation is how are you doing today or how are you doing right now? And just to check in and say like, how am I actually doing today? Today’s okay. Today’s pretty good. Yesterday, don’t know, not so good, and just making a deliberate effort to actually answer that question. [00:42:00] It’s been good. I think it has been helpful to actually be more genuine with folks.
Dr. Grant: Just to loop, I don’t want to loop around too much, but to loop around to the macro level piece, by doing that, by asking someone in a more genuine way, how are you doing right now at this moment, and really being attuned to, are they just fine or do they need a little bit of help? If we could reinvent that culture in the workplace to get past those niceties of, hey, how are you? Good, to Hey, how are you? Hey, I need a little support, that also can help to bring down the instances of burnout because you’re changing the culture. It’s going to feel more genuinely supportive, less so than the Hey, how are you that you might give an acquaintance or a stranger on the street. That’s not going to really lead itself to deeper discussion and support, but that genuine way that you’re talking about greeting someone is going to open up the conversation to a deeper level of care and support for someone else.
Dr. Sharp: I hope so. As we’re talking, it’s got me thinking about it. We have a group chat within our practice. We use Google chat, but a lot of places use Slack. There are all kinds of internal messaging apps. Over the course of the pandemic, that chat has really been a place for folks to be more vulnerable. I see a lot more conversation around like my family member is sick, or I’m struggling with this or this client’s really hard. And I think that’s been a really nice outlet for folks to be able to get a little more support than usual.
I mean, it’s definitely more than it was before the pandemic. I’ve noticed a marked change just during that time. [00:44:00] I think my point is just that, whatever way you can provide that or utilize it, it is nice to be able to reach out to folks and get some support if you need it and be genuine. That’s the kicker here. People have to actually share what’s going on for them in an authentic way. At least here it’s been received really well.
Dr. Grant: I want to emphasize that piece a little bit more, the genuine piece, because when we’re working with colleagues and helping professions, we’re, we’re psychologists, we’re trained to pick up on emotional cues and things along those lines. So your colleague is going to be able to know if you’re saying, Hey, how are you, but you genuinely don’t really want to know how they’re doing. They’re probably going to be able to pick up on that.
So make sure that you are genuine about it. It’s okay if you’re not. If you just want to say hi, I’ll talk to you later, that’s okay. But what I hear you saying is providing the space for an individual to express themselves in that way a little bit more than just saying, how is that case going? Or have you met the goals for your patient yet? Really giving them the chance to be known on a deeper level, because that also is going to open up the conversation to these more vulnerable topics. You’re more apt to talk to someone about what you’re really going through if you know them on a deeper level.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. That’s a great point. Go forward.
Dr. Grant: I was going to say, we had a couple of other micro-level strategies, and these were more general ones before I jumped into the more school psychology-specific ones. We had mentioned the importance of eating healthy. We got into a really good segue about the importance of mindfulness. I also wanted to highlight two others.
Exercise. I know that exercise is tough. I know for me, I say, I’m going to do it and I usually [00:46:00] don’t, but I can speak from experience that when you stick to it and you build that habit and you make it habitual, it really can be helpful. Exercise can be a good way to get out some frustration in some angst, but it also could be a good way to build endorphins and to really start to foster a little bit more positive mood. So I think exercise is really important. I don’t mean going to climb a mountain. It doesn’t have to be anything too extreme. Just something that gets you moving because it can have really good benefits for your health and your mental health as well.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. I feel like I’m one of those fortunate individuals maybe where I love exercising and don’t know where I’d be without it. That’s like my only means of controlling mental health basically. I appreciate that you highlight that it is not super easy for a lot of folks to get into it.
Dr. Grant: That’s right. The other practice that I do think can be helpful is unplugging from technology. It’s a little ironic because we’re using technology now to communicate, but I think when we think about technology, and we think about the pandemic, especially as an example, we get inundated with so many of these world-based issues that we can’t control.
If we think about Apple News, CNN, NBC, and think about what anxiety is, anxiety really ramps up because of a fear of the unknown, the fear of what we can’t control. Anxiety wants control. So if you already had a stressful workday and now you go and you see all this stuff about COVID and all this stuff about international concerns, that’s going to ramp you up. And if it’s going to ramp you up, but there’s no control you have over it, it’s going to be hard to bring that anxiety back down because there are no effective means for you to resolve the issue.
I think unplugging from technology [00:48:00] can be helpful. I don’t mean totally abandoning your cell phone, but just giving yourself some time to separate. And maybe if it’s only 15 minutes a day, that could be the time you check in with yourself and say, Hey, now that there’s no noise, now there’s nothing else distracting me, can I really check in with how I’m doing mentally and physically because physically your body might give you cues that emotionally you’re not even paying attention to.
Dr. Sharp: Right. That’s a great point.
Dr. Grant: So, those are some general micro-level practices that I hope people will consider. And for all of these practices, if they’re not ones that you do yet, I urge you do not give up on them after a day of trying it or a week of trying it. Give it some time. We know that change takes time. We tell our patients, Hey, don’t expect yourself to get over this trauma right away. It might take quite some time. Don’t expect yourself to get into these habits overnight. Just trying those habits though really will put you on a step in the right direction in combating burnout.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. That’s great.
Dr. Grant: Thinking about specific, looking at school psychological practice, and even a clinical psychology practice, I think when we think about just providing therapeutic services, providing assessment services, a broad strategy that I definitely recommend is engaging in training, engaging in continuous learning, and I think that this is huge for school psychologists because oftentimes the PDs in school are geared towards teachers. The school psychologists still have to attend, but it’s really not geared towards a lot of what they do in terms of practice. And that can be tough because again, what we do is so strict and there are a lot of guidelines and rules around, especially with the assessment, how you give a particular test. You want to make sure that you’re doing it right. And if you’re not [00:50:00] trained well enough, or if you feel as if you need more training, it can be pretty anxiety-provoking to then have to give that test knowing that you might have areas in your assessment profile that needs to be beefed up.
So I think, seeking to continue learning, whether it be going to your ED leadership, going to NASP, going to APA, and looking at some continuing education programming that they offer. Some of it is virtual, so you don’t even have to go anywhere to attend it. I think that that’s one way that practitioners can help themselves. Just broadly speaking, making sure you’re staying up to date.
Dr. Sharp: I like that. That’s an interesting point that I never really thought that school psychologists have to attend CEs that are not relevant to them just because they’re being offered in the school. That seems so frustrating.
Dr. Grant: A bit counterintuitive, especially if you have a huge caseload and you’re trying to write reports and now it’s, Hey, it’s PD day and you have to go and attend it.
Now again, it might be a generality that I’m speaking in. Some pieces may be irrelevant if they’re talking about changes in ED law and legislation and things like that. But sometimes, it may not be as pertinent as you might want. It may not be something like, Hey, we just got this assessment as part of our district, and we know that it’s new to you. So we’re going to give you a whole day’s worth of training. I have really heard of something like that being offered, but I do think that that’s something that practitioners would benefit from. So they’ll go into their practice a bit more prepared.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I gotcha. All right. I like this. What else on the personal level?
Dr. Grant: I think another big piece, and this comes with any role, but I think for a psychologist, in particular, I think organization is huge. Regardless of if you’re only doing assessment or if you are fortunate enough to have a more multifaceted layout in your [00:52:00] role, I think that organization is paramount because a lot of what we do require is high specific deadlines. So let’s say for therapy, in most settings, you have a certain amount of time to write your notes. So that way you’re in compliance with insurance billing and things like that. For assessment as a school psychologist, you have specific deadlines for your initial evaluations, your tri-annual evaluations.
If you’re not organized, you may think that you’re maintaining your caseload in an appropriate, and then look back at your documentation and say, oh man, this initial needs to be done within the next four days and I don’t have any time to get this done. So I really think making sure that you are organized and you start that school year off by saying, who are the individuals on my caseload, what are the responsibilities that I have for them, whether it be therapy or testing or both, and then how am I going to structure this out? When am I going to pull that child for testing? What test am I going to do? When am I going to meet with the families, all of those pieces?
I know it might sound a little type A, but that’s going to save you a lot of trouble down the line, especially with the ever-changing conditions that COVID kind of puts in the faces of practitioners.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. You’ve really got my attention with this kind of thing because I love a nice strategy or organization system. I’m curious what this actually looks like in practice. And this is just my ignorance around workflow in school psychology. But is this something where you could sit at the beginning of the year and take a day or two days, and just map out your calendar for the year or for the semester, at least?
Dr. Grant: That’s a really great question. And yes. I’ve been in settings before where a school psychologist, because what typically happens at least for triennials, you’ll know, this person was tested, let’s say two years ago. So if I do the math [00:54:00] two years ago and go three years ahead, when is the latest that I could complete that evaluation? So you’ll be able to have some dates already figured out. If we’re thinking about other individuals that have already had therapy and they’re carrying that over, you’ll have them already listed in your caseload and you’ll be able to, once you have their contact info, reach out to the family, confirm what class periods work for that child. Even before the school year starts, they have their schedule. So you can reach out and really confirm a lot of this information.
To keep my response short to your question, so yeah, you can definitely schedule this out and I think the more that you can schedule out in advance, it will definitely help you. And then if changes are made like a child leaves the district or a new child comes in that’s on your caseload, you can add them into a spreadsheet. You don’t have to go and buy some fancy software. I’ve seen people use Excel tables and Microsoft word. It doesn’t have to be anything too sophisticated, just to keep you organized about what you have to do.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I was going to ask that question about what software gets employed here as it really just as basic as Word or Excel or just a calendar.
Dr. Grant: It could certainly be that. I’ve seen other individuals use it. People really get into it. They’ll use reminders as well on their phone to let them know, Hey, I have these meetings at this specific time. They might even use Google calendar to get those alerts. I have these meetings. I’m testing this child at this time. I’m doing therapy at this time. So they mirror their Excel spreadsheet schedule with the Google calendar, giving them more day-to-day specifics of what they need to do. That way, they get constant reminders.
As you know, a crisis might pop up or something might happen with a colleague and you might have to help and then you’ll be done with that and say, wait, what was I supposed to do? I know I was supposed to do something at 3:00 o’clock and I don’t remember. Oh right. I see my [00:56:00] reminder. I was overdue to call this parent and have that conversation with them. So now I know to call them and let them know, Hey, this is why I was late, rather than forgetting about them all altogether.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I love that. Let’s see. What else? Keep them coming.
Dr. Grant: I think if we want to get more into the assessment piece and this kind of fits with the training part, it’s really knowing the assessment in and out that you’re using: really understanding what the use case is for the assessment, what reasons for referral the assessment would be the most pertinent, and then what reasons for the referral you would only use maybe some part of the test versus the entire battery itself. What I’m getting at is selective testing. Really being targeted in your assessment because especially when you’re first coming out of grad school, depending on the program, you may know how to give the test and score the test, but it may be hard for you to really understand what test is good for this situation. And if you’re not sure, your response may be, and I’ve heard stories of this, practitioners throwing the kitchen sink at the kid and doing over-testing.
And if you think about a backlog, if you think about burnout, yes, you’re burning out the child. But think about yourself. If you over-test for every client or patient that comes through the door, that’s going to be a lot of time, and I want to be too blunt, but that is wasted that you could use on assessing someone else in a more specified and targeted way.
So selective testing really would get at saying, what’s the referral concern and what specific instruments do I have access to that would best meet those referral concerns. So instead of just picking the same batteries every time and doing the same test, which would be over-testing, picking and selecting the proper assessments. So [00:58:00] instead of doing 40, I might only do 10, or I might only do 12. That’s a quarter of the time in comparison to doing 40 tests, for example.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, sure. I would imagine. I don’t know about all folks out there, but for us, the academic batteries tend to be the longest. We could easily burn 2 to 3 hours on a WIAT or KTEA or WJ or whatever it might be. If you’re more selective about the tests that you actually need, that can go a long way.
Dr. Grant: That’s exactly right. And we think about working in a school or even working in private practice, we don’t have access to our clients or the people we’re working with indefinitely. We can’t hold them for weeks at a time and just test as much as we want. So with those 2-3 hours that you’re referencing, you have to make sure you get the most out of those 2-3 hours because that might end up being all that you get with them.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Yes. It makes me think about just the principle of parsimony and balancing quality with quantity. And I think a lot of us conflate those two that quality equals the quantity of testing, but that’s not the case, right? I am curious though, and I know it’s hard to generalize how school districts are or how receptive they might be to that. Is there any pushback that you’ve seen in terms of not getting the data that’s needed or why aren’t you doing a longer battery or anything like that from the entity level.
Dr. Grant: That’s a really great question. And I have for it, and my work from, from individuals I’ve spoken to that have to go to their leadership and they say that they need certain information to make a case. That’s kind of the phrase. I need [01:00:00] to make a case for why we need this particular assessment solution tool, regardless of what the test is.
And part of that could be depending on the localities, laws, and regulations. They may have to use particular assessments because they yield certain scores. I don’t want to throw that point out the window. But then also part of it could be budgetary. We have these tests and if they are still in print and they’re still valid, then we’re not going to buy any new ones. So you use this to have to deal with what you got even if that means you might have to overtest because of it. Or it could just be stubbornness, resistance to change, we ought to be blind. I mean, we all know that change for some individuals is tough. Change brings anxiety, and we don’t want to have anxiety because that’s tough. So we might just want to keep going with the way that things are because it’s worked for 10 years. So why do we want to change it?
In short, yes, I’ve heard that people have had to make cases before, and hopefully, leadership would be on board with it, but I can imagine that’s not always the case.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I love this idea. Testing deliberately is maybe one way to think of it. And that seems like a very easy way to help everyone, right? Like you’re not over-testing. We know that the more you test, the more likely you’re going to get discrepant scores. And so, I think that just muddies the clinical, or I guess it’s not clinical in a school, but the eligibility picture. It saves time and it helps the kid not get pulled out of class as much. And it presumably allows the clinician to focus more on the writing and conceptualization, which is really the important part anyway.
Dr. Grant: That’s exactly right. I [01:02:00] think when we think about our testing and we think about all the effort that goes into it, selective testing would be ideal because you’re making sure that you’re giving the proper instruments based on the hypothesis you have. You are going to be able to distill that data a lot more easily because you’re not looking at like you said, 40 tests that may likely have discrepant data across a certain portion of them. And the faster you can sift through that data and conceptualize, the faster you can turn that data into actionable results.
That’s really what the testing is for to figure out what is this individual’s profile and how can we help them. And if you can’t make sense of that data because of all the testing that was done, and the testing was almost done for not at that point, if no action will change or interventions can be brought on or suggested.
Dr. Sharp: Right. I like that. I know that our time is flying. My gosh. Are there other strategies you want to make sure to mention on that personal level in terms of preventing burnout, managing your time, taking care of yourself?
Dr. Grant: Yeah. And this is maybe just a general point and we’ve spoken to this a couple of times, but I just want to urge listeners that you’re not weak if you experience burnout. You’re not flawed. Just like how, again, we tell our patients and our clients that it’s okay to experience these emotions and that their feelings are valid, burnout is valid. And then we see it across the board across industries. I want to make sure that practitioners know that it’s okay that they have those feelings. And if they have those feelings that there is support out there for them. I urge them to seek that support.
Dr. Sharp: Very cool. I feel like we can’t talk enough about this topic. And as we [01:04:00] close, I’m going to share one thing that has come up on the podcast in the past kind of a distinction to make that I probably should have mentioned way back in the beginning, but here we are, we can talk about it as it’s coming up.
During one of my previous episodes, a guest, I think it was Stephanie Nelson said, there is a difference between self-care, which can sometimes feel like just another chore or something that goes on your to-do list, like I have to work out or I need to go buy healthy food, or I need to schedule that meeting to advocate for myself, you know. So there can be a difference between self-care in like a chore-like way versus just self-compassion for being human and struggling when things are hard and overwhelming.
I don’t know. There’s no question in there. It’s really just throwing that out there to maybe normalize it for folks that if you’re hearing all this and you’re like, oh, more self-care how do I do more self-care? That’s okay. I think that’s totally valid and you got to find the way to do it that works for you.
Dr. Grant: I appreciate that distinction. And this goes back again to the articles that I was mentioning that kind of pointed the finger saying, hey, you’re burnout. You have to go do this. Don’t jump on that bike or run that mile. I think you make a very good distinction that self-compassion itself can be a way that we can start to show ourselves care.
And it’s a way that for some can be a little more challenging than others for different reasons, but that may be a very important starting point that really just saying, I am worth having a better working environment instead of being in this closet. I am worth being able to experience these emotions that I say are valid in my clients. So why can’t they be valid in me?
Just humanizing [01:06:00] those aspects of yourself and realizing that feeling those emotions don’t make you any less high achieving, any less professional, any less efficacious than the next practitioner. If anything, acknowledging it makes you a better practitioner than someone that doesn’t.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. I’m so glad that you highlighted that. I think that’s probably a nice note to end on as well. That’s a relatively uplifting thought, which we all know, but it’s nice to hear again that asking for help and seeking support is actually a sign of strength. We know this but it’s good to reinforce that.
Dr. Grant: That’s true. And even though we know it, it doesn’t mean that we always abide by it. So I think it’s important to have as many reminders as possible.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. Yes.
Well, are there any resources you might recommend for folks who want to dive into this idea of self-compassion and self-care, gosh, even advocacy, that you might recommend before we wrap up?
Dr. Grant: Sure. I think for psychologists that are practicing if you are a school psychologist, I would definitely recommend checking out NASP. NASP has several retention strategies for burnout, and they speak to specific ways that organizations can be modeled to secure the school psychologist for a longer period of time. That way burnout isn’t felt. That way they are not as inclined to look for work elsewhere. And the retention strategies are written in such a way that speaks to the practitioner. So it’s giving you strategies that you can also use as well, so ways that you can go to your organization and really figure out how change can be enacted.
I think that APA also is a pretty good organization to check out [01:08:00] too. They do have a lot of normalizing material that can help you feel not alone if you are that one practitioner in the district, or maybe one practitioner and even a state. I’ll just throw that example out. If there’s no one else like you, they have a lot of good normalizing material.
Both NASP and APA have social media communities, whether it be through LinkedIn or Facebook, and they both also have mentorship programs as well. So you can have a community with like-minded practitioners so you can really feel as if what you’re going through isn’t just you, isn’t an isolated case. And we know that normalization can be validating.
Some other supports that I would recommend, and these are more micro-level ones. Calm is an app that I think is really, really good. I’m not a paid endorsement, just saying, I think Calm is a really good app for mindfulness practice. I think if we’re talking about decompressing, that would be a good thing to check out.
Another one is called Breathwork. Breathwork, as the name implies, just focus focuses on your breath. And they have different exercises. They have ones for when you first wake up to get your day going, one for when you’re going to sleep. So it could really be tailored to what activity you’re getting ready to go into, but again, I think Calm, Breathwork, apps like that, if you practicing some of those skills before the stress really becomes too challenging. So that way you can call upon those strategies. When you are having a rough day or a rough week, you’ll be able to act on those strategies a bit more easily.
Dr. Sharp: Nice. Well, I really appreciate your time and thoughts. We were able to hold the universe together with two Jeremys sharing the space. So, congratulations on that. The info [01:10:00] is super important. It’s super important to be talking about this. I hope folks will check out the resources.
Dr. Grant: I hope so as well.
Dr. Sharp: Well, again, just thanks so much. I’m super grateful that you came to chat with us. I look forward to maybe our paths crossing again soon.
Dr. Grant: I really appreciate your time. It was an honor being here. If any listeners want to reach out, I provided my information so they could feel free to reach out to me. I just want to thank everyone for all that they’re doing. Again, I know that it’s been challenging and it’s been tough. But sticking through it and supporting the families and the clients that you’re working for, you’re doing very incredible work. So I just want to make sure that that’s known.
Dr. Sharp: Nicely put. I love that. Everybody, you’re doing good work. Keep it up. Take care of yourself. Thanks, Geremy.
Dr. Grant: Thank you.
Dr. Sharp: All right ,y’all thanks so much for listening. I really appreciate it. So awesome to see the listenership continue to grow. If you haven’t rated or reviewed the podcast, I’m always grateful for that. If you haven’t told a friend, always grateful for that as well. I’ll just keep spreading the word about testing and reaching those who might want to hear about it.
All right. I will be back next time with a business episode. Take care.
The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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