Let’s Talk About Therapist Burn-out

Start the conversation about your overwhelming work schedule.

When the World Health Organization added “Burn-out” from workplace stress to its International Classification of Disease (ICD), it seemed that workers from all sectors breathed a collective sigh of relief.

For many workers, it was validation that no, they’re not crazy and yes, their jobs are impossible to handle without emotional, psychological, and sometimes even physical pain.

The World Health Organization defines burn-out as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

It’s characterized by:
-Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
-Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job
-Reduced professional efficacy”

What they don’t mention are the personal stakes, often very high, of these burned-out employees.

Let’s Be Honest: Rehab Therapists are at Very High-Risk of Burn-out.

Documentation and productivity expectations become more impossible every year.

We face painful situations on a daily basis, as we do our best for the sick and suffering, often without acknowledgment of the toll that it has on us.

And unfortunately, many of our large employers have reduced therapists to percentages and dollar signs. They have mandatory lunch meetings so that therapists don’t have even 30 minutes to rest. They squeeze us into open offices with harsh lighting and no privacy. They forget to say ‘thank you’ and ‘good job’.

Therapists are burning out, and sometimes in dangerous ways. I know this from personal experience.

At the peak of my burnout, I went to the ER for intense abdominal pain and suffered such severe depression and anxiety that I feared for my life. A fellow OT working in schools was rushed to the ICU for work-stress induced pneumonia.

We may be more extreme examples of burn-out, but it did teach us both a very valuable life lesson: Take care of yourself!

Take care of yourself

1) What you feel is valid and okay.

Employers may say you ‘should’ be able to handle 90% productivity. Or you ‘should’ take on those extra projects without needing overtime. But if you’re chronically overwhelmed and exhausted, then they’re wrong.

Take the time to pause and check-in. You can sit in nature, meditate, or even take a minute alone in your car before rushing to the next patient.

Consider talk therapy or counseling if you’re struggling. Or find other ways to respectfully work through hard feelings.

2) Advocate for yourself.

If possible, communicate your questions and concerns with your manager before they become a bigger issue.

Problem solve solutions. Check out our other articles and resources. We have Treatment Ideas, Goal & Evaluation guides, and Printable Templates and Handouts to make your life easier. Get tips from a colleague who seems to have a good organization system down.

If you’re struggling, explain the situation to your supervisor simply, without blaming anybody. Ask to set a meeting to discuss the matter further.

When you’re ready, state simply what you want. You may frame it as how you “feel” (this comes across as less critical).

A Script to Ask for What You Want


Let’s say that your schedule as a home health therapist is full at 5-6 patients per day. But the schedulers added new evaluations so that you feel pressured to see 6-7 patients per day. Write an email to your supervisor (CC the schedulers):

Sample Script

Hello Supervisor, I have been feeling overwhelmed by my caseload recently, especially given the severity of disorders I’m treating. I am grateful to have a full caseload, yet I feel that the quality of my therapy suffers when I see 6 or more patients per day. Would it be reasonable for the following evaluations to be extended 2 weeks out? I reviewed the case histories, and these patients appear safe enough for speech therapy to come at that time. I really appreciate your consideration and look forward to your reply.

Most supervisors will do their best to work with you. They want to keep their excellent employee (you!) Plus, it’s expensive to find and train new therapists.

Unfortunately, there are some companies who, despite your diligent efforts to meet their standards and your respectful communication, won’t be willing to meet your needs. At this point, you may want to consider whether the job is worth it.

Therapists do important work, not just with our clinical skills, but with our compassionate care for our patients.

Let’s extend that compassion to ourselves, shall we?

Resources to Make Your Life Easier

The Adult Speech Therapy Workbook [Chung Hwa brewer, Miwa Aparo]

The Adult Speech Therapy Workbook
-Hundreds of Worksheets & Handouts!

Virtual SLP Evaluation Forms 6 Adult Eval Templates PDF image 0

Evaluations for Adults
-6 Eval Templates, Printable

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