Preventing Burnout as a School-Based Occupational Therapist

by Howard Gerber on June 8, 2017

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OT burnoutIf you already work as a school-based occupational therapist, you probably know how rewarding it can be. Therapists help children reach their academic potential, but that’s not all. They also make a difference in a child’s overall wellbeing.

Although working as a school-based OT is fulfilling, it can also be stressful and has many challenges. Unfortunately, some therapists become burnt-out from the stress. Understanding why burnout occurs and what you can do to prevent it can help you stay on the right track.

Why Do School-Based Occupational Therapists Burn Out?

Several factors can increase the chances a school-based occupational therapist will develop burnout. Hopefully, your employer is doing what they can to create a supportive, healthy work environment. But it’s helpful to be aware of what contributes to professional burnout, so you can prevent it from occurring. Consider some of the following stressors, which can lead to burnout:

Unmanageable student workloads: Although school-based OTs may have to deal with fluctuations in caseloads, if you’re always swamped, it can lead to burnout.

Unrealistic treatment plans: Treatment plans should be attainable and realistic without limiting potential, but treatment goals that are not doable will only lead to frustration.

Lack of school support: If you don’t have support from administration and staff, it’s easy to feel you are in it alone and develop burnout. A supportive work environment should allow you to discuss difficult situations and provide feedback and advice.

Preventing Burnout

It’s helpful to take responsibility for preventing burnout. If you become burned out, it not only affects your ability to help your students. It can also affect your wellbeing and overall quality of life. Be aware of the signs that you’re starting to feel burnout which includes:

  • Decreased interest in work
  • Calling in sick more often
  • Irritability
  • Loss of productivity
  • Depression
  • Decreased compassion

If you think you are starting to feel burnt out from work, talk to someone. Whether you talk to your supervisor, school counselor or another mental health professional, recognizing the problem is the first step. There may be things you can do, such as decrease your caseload, cut back on hours or take a break from the daily grind that helps you cope.

When it comes to professional burnout, prevention is your best bet. Even with a stressful job, there are ways to prevent professional burnout. Develop treatment plans that include small, measurable goals. Working with students and seeing little improvement can be frustrating for school occupational therapists. Having mini-goals may help both therapists and students stay motivated as they see progress.

It’s also helpful to work together as a team with teachers, parents, and other school therapists. Working together will provide you with support and comradery, which can go a long way in preventing burnout.

Take time away from work to recharge. Even the most dedicated occupational therapist needs time to relax. Find ways to let go of stress, such as exercise, hanging out with friends, or enjoying a hobby.

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