Burnout recovery tip 8: Counselling, and then not going to counselling

This post was written by Megan on November 9, 2010
Posted Under: burnout and recovery

Counselling fish cartoon

My first experiment with counselling was with a 'Zen psychiatrist'.

Well, that's how I categorised him. I talked. The psychiatrist sat there, eyes half-closed, apparently meditating on my right shoulder. At ten-minute intervals the psychiatrist released a low hum, much like an unreliable refrigerator.

Having burnout meant I was spending enough time on my own. So I moved onto a different kind of counselling… 


A note about looking for a counsellor:

Be open to the idea of 'shopping around'. It is important to find the right modality (i.e. counselling approach) for you, as well as the right individual therapist. You don't necessarily have to 'get along' but you do need to be able to trust enough to be honest, and to feel understood and respected.

This is no mean feat when you already feel a little odd, and so tired that 'unsociable' is when you are at your best. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is also known as 'CBT'. Considering I have CFS, I thought our acronyms might have something in common. The premise of CBT, from what I gather, is about changing from the outside in. In other words, change your behaviour and you have the keys to internal world domination.

So I talked, then stopped talking…and heard words!

Joy. Except it was only my words repeated back at me. I looked around the room wildly. Why was there an echo in this acoustically-challenged office space? 

Testing the theory, I said something else. I heard my words repeated again. Except this time I saw the therapist's lips move. She was sprung, like a ventriloquist fighting a yawn. 

'It's a technique called "active listening",' she explained, rolling her eyes at me (are therapists supposed to do that?). Naturally, I began to sing 'I say "tomato" and you say….', (pause – waiting for my therapist to say 'tomato'). She didn't say 'tomato'. Instead she looked at me as if I was losing my mind (are therapists supposed to do that?).

This was more a case of finding the right personality than the right modality. CBT with another psychologist might have been dandy.

Anyway, I don't know who said it, me or my therapist, but the words "Maybe it's time to see someone else" hung in the room. 


Mindfulness Psychology 

I'm not sure if mindfulness psychology has an acronym, but it's based on Mindfulness Meditation Therapy (a buddhist thing) otherwise known as MMT. Said like a hum, MMT is like a mosquito hitting an electric bug zapper.

When I read that mindfulness psychology is a non-judgmental approach I breathed a sigh of relief. No eye-rolling or 'she's craaaazy' looks.

There is a great premise to Mindful Psychology which is "We are not our thoughts". A radical notion, certainly, to those of us who believe our thoughts are the very core of our identity. 

What are we, if we are not our thoughts?

And if our thoughts aren't really ours, then whose are they? There's a brain-bender for you. Who needs a Rubic's Cube if you have a Mindfulness Psychologist?

Guided by my psychologist, I stopped worrying about where my thoughts came from. I simply began to observe them. Much like a childcare worker fondly looking over a group of small children pulling each other's hair out. 

This is a better place to be – much better than pulling hair or having your hair pulled. Particularly if you remind yourself that the parents will never show up to complain and that you are fully insured for any injuries that occur on site.

But what if I want to by-pass thoughts altogether? 

The Mindfulness process will eventually lead you there. However, I found a short-cut with…


Process-Oriented Psychology 

Otherwise known as 'Process Work'. This counselling approach has its foundations sunk firmly into Jungian Psychology – the land of dreams and imagination.

My experience with Process Work has been to do with finding a 'hot spot' (i.e. sensitive area that brings about amplified emotion) through a conversation with my Process counsellor. From that point the counsellor might ask me what colour this feeling is (usually blue), or where it is found in my body (usually in my throat).

Then I might draw the feeling. Or we will role play it. Crazy as it seems, my counsellor will pretend to be 'the feeling' and I pretend to be 'me' (or visa versa). Me and the feeling will have a conversation about what's going on.

The more childlike or seemingly loopy the process, 
the more valuable realisations came to light about myself. 

In other words, the less thinking I did – and the more playful I became – the better. But that's just me.


Going out on your own

When you find the right therapist for you, communing with them can be gold. However, putting a hold on counselling at the right time can be platinum.

Somewhere along the way, you might find that it's time to take a break from your counsellor. If this doesn't happen, they might take a break from you! Becoming dependent on that other person is not the idea. Ultimately, counselling is designed to help you function better on your own.

So look out for the credits rolling during a session. This doesn't mean you can't resume again later.


This is the eighth post from my series: '13 things towards recovery from burnout'.

And the premise remains the same: what works for me might not work for you.

This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who says 'potato' not 'pot-arrr-doh'.  Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

Lol, I can relate to some of that!
BTW, interesting that you mentioned sometimes your feelings felt 'blue' and were in your throat… blue is the colour for the 'throat chakra' (note, that's not the sanskrit name!). Since you're a communicator, it might be worth looking into – get yourself a beautiful blue necklace! ;)

Written By Vera on November 9th, 2010 @ 9:07 am

Oh Megan, you make me laugh so hard. Maybe I should become a zen psychologist- I could combine napping and earning money all at once! I have been to quite a few psychologists, and have found the mindfulness approach, and something kind of similar to what you call the 'process-oriented' approach the most valuable. The latter put me in touch with my 'true self' on a very deep level, which makes life beautiful no matter the circumstances.

Written By Amber on November 9th, 2010 @ 9:48 pm

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