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The Top 5 Signs You’re Headed for Burnout

This is one for the people in the helping professions. Burnout is a term you’ve probably heard frequently, but for those who don’t know: burnout is essentially a point in your career where you end up in a physical and emotional puddle. Sure, not the most clinical definition, but take it from someone who’s been there- that’s exactly what it feels like!

So how does it occur? Many factors can contribute: excessive caseload, lack of support from management, poor work/leisure balance, and many more. Burnout doesn’t suddenly happen, rather it’s more of a downward decline that affects a person physically and emotionally.

So, what are the signs?

Your health is impacted

You seem to catch every single bug that you come into contact with. And they can be harder to shake off than usual. Stress can have a huge impact on our immune system, and it’s often the first indicator that something is a little ‘off’. Of course, it’s worth noting that a visit to your GP should be your first step, and keep them in the loop about your stress levels.

You’re distracted most of the time.

Your partner might be telling you about their day, but you don’t take anything in. You forget to pay for your child’s school camp on time. In social situations, you feel on the periphery: you’re ‘there’ but you’re not really there. Stress impacts our ability to be fully present. You might be thinking constantly about that difficult client, or you might just be mentally ‘checking out’. When we’re not fully present, we miss so many important moments, and are left feeling unfulfilled.

You’re caring less about your clients.

You got into your work because you want to make a difference. You want to help people. But now things are different. People are becoming just numbers in a caseload to you. You feel numb when faced with complex trauma, as opposed to the empathy you once would have felt. As professionals in the helping fields, we do need to tread a very fine line- maintaining empathy whist maintaining a professional distance. When you feel that sense of empathy slipping away over time, it might be burnout creeping up on you.

You’re taking a lot of sick days.

Those bugs that you’re always catching are contributing to this. But you also (often) feel the need for a mental health day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the mental health day, but what I’m referring to here is a lot of time taken off from work.


You’re tired ALL. THE. TIME. You feel like you are just dragging yourself through each day, and you have very little energy. Except at night of course, because that’s when your brain and body just don’t seem to want to rest after all. And repeat. And repeat again.

So now what? If you’re feeling like these things apply to you, it’s time to up the self-care routine, and speak to your supervisor.

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Counselling and “the space between”

counselling gambling Yarraville“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl


We love this statement here at Focus.


This statement from Viktor Frankl teaches us that even if we feel we don’t have a choice, we do. It is in the ‘space’ that growth is acquired. Upon choosing lies responsibility and autonomy. It encapsulates so much of the work that we do as counsellors. When Josette works with children who exhibit challenging behaviours, this is the space she works in. When I work with people battling an addiction, this is the space I work in.


The space may seem brief to those experiencing it, but as counsellors we work with our clients to help them identify that space. When the space is identified, clients can start to slow down their automatic responses.

How does this work in practice?

Consider this example of Roberta, who is battling an addiction to gambling. Although she wants to curb her gambling habit, on her way home from work she finds herself driving to the pokies as if on autopilot. She experiences this as not having a choice; her body has suddenly acted on a desire to gamble. But in examining this with her counsellor, Roberta realised that she had felt angry and frustrated after a run-in with a colleague at work that day and as a result had an unpleasant physical sensation in the pit of her stomach. She realised that whenever she felt that physical sensation in her body she would feel a strong urge to gamble, as it provided her system with a rush of dopamine that made that unpleasant sensation go away. As she had acted on that urge so many times in the past, she had come to experience her reaction as being instant, and she felt as though she was out of control.


Roberta’s awareness grew over the course of counselling. She began to notice the role her body played and became more attuned to her reactions. Where she once felt she acted on autopilot, she now experiences the space between the stimulus and response, and uses her new strategies to resist the urge to gamble.


Next time you feel that you don’t have a choice we invite you to consider the ‘space’ between.


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Family Dispute Resolution (Mediation)- What Can I Expect?

As an accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP), I see many clients who feel overwhelmed by the situation they find themselves in. For some people, separation is something that they did not see coming, nor did they want it to happen. For others, separation is an inevitable outcome and something of a relief, especially if the relationship was toxic or abusive. However it occurs, separation brings about a burden of stress to all involved, both practically and emotionally. This of course is magnified when there are children involved. For some parents, basic communication between them becomes a minefield and heightened emotions get in the way of civil conversation. For these parents, mediation can be helpful as a platform to discuss their concerns with a neutral third party who can provide a safe environment for discussions.

If you have been invited to attend mediation, or you are considering initiating the process, you might be wondering what to expect. Firstly, the mediator meets with the initiating party to conduct an assessment, which involves collecting some background information and hearing what the person would like to achieve through mediation. A mediator will ask lots of different questions about issues such as mental health, family violence, relationship history, etc. This helps the mediator assess whether mediation will be a suitable process for you, and if so how best to facilitate the process. For example, you may be willing to participate in the process but the thought of sitting in the same room as the other party makes you feel sick with nerves so the mediator might arrange for the mediation to take place in separate rooms (“shuttle mediation”).

The other party will then be invited to participate in the same confidential one-on-one session with the mediator. The mediator will then need to assess that it is suitable to proceed with mediation, and if so the mediation session will be scheduled.

At the start of the session, the mediator will give you an introduction about the main points of mediation. Then each of you will be invited to discuss what you feel the issues are for discussion. Both of you will have a chance to speak uninterrupted at this point. Some people find it helpful to bring some notes along to help them remember the issues they want to discuss. The mediator will then check in to make sure they’ve understood what you’ve each said, and then write up the list of issues, or agenda items, on the whiteboard. With the mediator’s guidance, you work through each item, one by one, and offer your ideas or proposals. The mediator’s role is to help you stay on the issue at hand, to help facilitate productive communication, and to make sure the children’s best interests are being considered throughout.

The mediation model I use as an FDRP is the facilitative model. This model allows the parties to determine what the issues are to discuss, and the order in which they will be discussed. The mediator in this model is a facilitator of a discussion, and is not there to force an agreement or coerce anyone to agree with someone else’s views. In my perspective, I may be in charge of the process, but the parties are in charge of what is up for discussion.

Any agreements you reach will be noted by the mediator, so you can take a copy home with you. It’s worth noting that this is not a legal agreement at this stage, it is merely a reflection of a discussion. However, the mediator will type these agreements up into a parenting agreement, which will be considered a legal document once it is signed and dated by both parties. Further information regarding parenting plans can be found on the Attorney- General’s website.

During the mediation session, you might feel like a break, and it’s OK to ask for one. The mediator might also offer to take a break. This can be a good opportunity for the mediator to check in with each of you confidentially to see how the process is going for you.

Not everyone reaches full agreement in one session, although it can happen. In fact, many people reach agreement after two or three sessions. It’s also helpful to remember that even if no agreements have been made during a mediation session, it doesn’t mean complete failure. Many clients can have a change in perspective after the session, or they may learn more effective communication strategies in the process, allowing the co-parenting relationship to improve.

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The “Aha!” moment in counselling

I’ll be honest. I was driving to my psychologist appointment last week, and I would have preferred to be any where else. Did I really want to go back and stir up some difficult emotions when I felt like, on that day, everything was going really well? We’ve been doing some great work lately but it has been pretty intensive, and not easy. Couldn’t I just go out for coffee/ clean out my sock drawer/ do the grocery shopping/ do absolutely anything but go to my session instead?

I know what you’re thinking- “She’s a counsellor, and she’s reluctant to go to a counselling session? Why should I go then?”. Fair point. More on that later.

My psychologist is pretty busy. If I cancelled, I wouldn’t be able to get another appointment for a long time. So I pushed through all the persistent thoughts of cancelling the session and just went.

I left that session one hour later feeling like I was in a bit of a daze. Everything looked a little bit different. I felt different. You see, I’d had one of those “aha!” moments that us counsellors love seeing a client experience. From that session I’d come to see something that had appeared to be a familiar situation in a completely new light.

In my car on the way home, I savoured this new revelation. I rolled it around in my mouth, tasting all the different notes. I held it up to the light and investigated its flaws. I poked it, I prodded it. Does it fit with my experience of the past? Will it fit with my hopes for the future? There was so much to consider.

Those “aha!” moments are incredible, and I speak from both a client and counsellor perspective here. It’s the moment when, as a client, you feel as though- quite literally- someone has just turned the lights on in a darkened room. As a counsellor, it’s a privilege to help a client obtain a new perspective in such a profound manner. Those revelations open our eyes to so many things, whether it be our own thoughts or behaviours, or that of others, that might impact on our lives.

When we experience these moments, we go from feeling powerless to empowered. We have new knowledge that we can choose to act on. We have options. We can choose what to do with this “aha!”.

So yes, I was reluctant to go to my counselling session. But boy, am I thankful I did.

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How do I choose the right counsellor for me?

If you’ve made the decision to seek support via counselling, then firstly, congratulations. A successful counselling relationship is a precious thing and can be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

However, the path to finding the right counsellor for you can be a tricky one. For starters, the terminology can be confusing. Do you need a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist?

Let’s talk about counsellors, seeing as that’s our domain! Counsellors can be qualified by diploma, bachelor degree, post graduate studies, or masters qualifications. Regardless of their education and experience, one thing to look for in a prospective counsellor is a membership with a professional body such as the ACA (Australian Counselling Association) or PACFA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia). This means that no matter the qualifications of the counsellor you’ve chosen, you can be assured they have a strict Code of Ethics to adhere to and responsibilities to their clients to provide a level of best practice. A professional body will also ensure it’s counsellors engage in regular professional development and supervision to guide their practice.

The most important advice I could give in looking for a counsellor is to find one who is a good fit FOR YOU. Most of the success that counselling can make in a person’s life comes down not to the amount of education or experience the counsellor has but the strength of the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client. One of the first things I tell my clients when meeting them for the first time is that if you feel I am not a good fit for you, that’s OK! It doesn’t mean that counselling is not a good fit for you. It just means you might like to try someone else, as we all have different styles of counselling and ways of relating to others. It’s also helpful if you can discuss with your counsellor at the start what it is you’re hoping to work on, or how you hope the counsellor will respond to you. For example, do you want to be challenged? Or do you just need some space to process some emotions? That way both you and your counsellor have some clarity about what expectations you may have.

It can be a scary step to make that call to a counsellor for the first time. But your future self will thank you that you did.