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Experiencing BCBA Burnout? Why It Happens and Tips to Combat It

What contributes to the stress and what BCBA employers can do to alleviate it

Burnout, a term once used to describe a flame or maybe even a faulty piece of technology, has taken on a new meaning in today’s society as more people report feeling overwhelmed or stressed, especially in the workplace. The World Health Organization has taken steps to define burnout, noting it as a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. The characterizations of burnout, when left untreated, can significantly impact mental health as it correlates to feelings of exhaustion, negativity and a lack of motivation. 

Employees in the health field, including Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), routinely suffer high levels of burnout as they face stress in the workplace. The question is – what contributes to that stress and what can BCBA employers do to alleviate it?

Stress contributors

The role of a BCBA is demanding. The weight of responsibility to assist children and adults while making a positive impact on their lives can lead to a significant amount of stress and therefore mental exhaustion. Many healthcare practitioners experience “compassion fatigue” as the need to constantly attend to others becomes overwhelming. The job requirements of a BCBA are immense, and many report feelings of being stretched too thin as they not only handle direct treatment, but also bear administrative duties such as drafting treatment plans, coordinating care, and providing family guidance. Time management skills are typically not emphasized or taught in school for BCBAs, resulting in challenges with balancing responsibilities and establishing boundaries. Additionally, high turnover rates are a problem in the ABA industry, meaning BCBAs must continually train and support new staff, making it difficult to maintain a strong workplace culture. 

BCBAs not only face the mounting pressure that comes from working with clients and their families, they also face employer demands to meet certain targets and metrics. This pressure makes burnout a common problem among BCBAs and emphasizes why BCBAs and their employers need to prioritize personal wellness. 

Avoiding burnout

Communication is key in avoiding burnout as it makes a management team and other staff members aware of negative feelings or discontent. Through communication, teams can discuss ways to prioritize or re-allocate work ultimately making workers feel heard and understood. Transparent conversations open up pathways to not only solving immediate issues but also strengthening trust and collaboration within a team. Additionally, transparency builds a support network at work. As other colleagues discuss their feelings, they can come up with new ideas to improve processes or treatment plans and share tips on prioritizing mental health, which, overall, helps to improve the mood of current team members. 

Recently, some employers have started employee resource groups – communication channels for BCBAs to connect about their shared experiences and offer advice and encouragement. Groups like these foster transparent environments where BCBAs communicate openly about their work while also seeking advice from those who may not be a part of their day-to-day role. 

BCBAs should prioritize their mental health by focusing on self-care and seeking professional help when necessary. Engaging in physical activity, establishing a balanced diet, and dedicating time to a hobby or activity all help to reduce stress and improve overall feelings of burnout. BCBAs should look for companies that offer a fitness benefit to help cut the cost of fitness classes or a gym membership. Some employers even offer massage and vacation benefits to help promote and encourage relaxation among their employees.

While prioritizing wellness and self-care are integral in improving mental health, sometimes feelings of burnout become unmanageable despite efforts to combat them. When this happens, it’s important to speak to a medical professional as they will provide personalized strategies and treatments that meet the specific needs of the BCBA that is struggling. Look to employers offering employee assistance programs that aim to offer confidential support on both professional and personal matters that may be impacting mental health. 

Feelings of burnout from work don’t only impact mental health in the workplace, they impact mental health as a whole. These feelings may lead to problems in personal relationships, health and overall happiness. These problems also directly translate to work, which may ultimately impact the lives of those that BCBAs work with and serve. BCBAs experiencing burnout should prioritize their mental and physical health, communicate with their teams and, if needed, seek professional help. 

However, it’s essential to remember that burnout is not a permanent state. With the right support, resources, and strategies in place, BCBAs can overcome burnout and thrive in their careers. Many employers are dedicated to supporting BCBAs in their journey toward wellness, providing the necessary tools and resources to help them navigate challenges and build resilience.

By prioritizing mental and physical health, fostering open communication, and seeking support when needed, BCBAs can create a healthier, more sustainable work environment for themselves and the individuals they serve. Together, BCBAs can work towards reducing burnout and promoting a culture of well-being and support within the BCBA community.

Remember, BCBAs are not alone in their journeys. Reach out, connect with others, and embrace the resources available. With determination and support, any BCBA can overcome burnout and continue to make a positive impact in the lives of others.

Photo credit: Aleksei Morozov, Getty Images

Dr. Sharyn Kerr, PH.D, MBA, BCBA-D is the Chief Strategy Officer for BlueSprig, a leading Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy provider for children with autism. As Chief Strategy Officer of BlueSprig, Dr. Kerr is responsible for the vision of the organization and oversees a team of professionals who ensure this vision is executed with the highest level of compassionate care, compliance, and exceptional quality. With over 25 years of experience both internationally and in the United States, Dr. Kerr has worked with academic institutions and large multi-site organizations in autism and ABA therapy. As a licensed child psychologist with a BCBA-D and an MBA, Dr. Kerr has a unique understanding of designing and implementing clinically excellent treatment programs with operational efficiency. Dr. Kerr is based in Southern California where she lives with her husband and two children.

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