eNewsletter - October 2016

Behavioral Health Partners

Mind-Body Wellness for Healing Professional Burnout
By Todd Fink, Behavioral Health Associate

Professional burnout is typically understood as a psychological stress characterized by exhaustion, loss of interest in work and feelings of ineffectiveness.  In the clinical profession, we also talk about it as “compassion fatigue” because there is a sense of being drained. 

As helpers, it can be challenging at times to consistently deliver positive and enthusiastic service especially if we don’t feel appreciated, respected or supported enough by those we serve or our colleagues and superiors.  

Often this leads an individual to want to quit what they are doing – the position, the place or the field altogether.  While sometimes these options can be argued as the healthiest course of action, there are some alternative responses to consider that may also prevent “burnout” as a chronic pattern of avoidance.

First, self-care is very important.  This includes the obvious - healthy diet, sufficient exercise and proper rest.  It also includes having some kind of daily relaxation ritual, which functions as a buffer between you and the stress of the day.  A ritual, in this sense, means regularly performing an activity that connects you with your own inner joy and is performed with your awareness deeply anchored in the present moment.  This could be something like sipping a cup of tea while watching the sunset, meditation, deep breathing or anything that is suitable, meaningful and peaceful for you.  This helps us to let go.  

One of the reasons we burn out is because things become too heavy psychologically.  It is common for people to “carry” their stress beyond their work environment.  Heaviness is not a matter of weight but a matter of time.  Even seemingly small things become heavy when we hold on to them.  If we learn to let go, we can recharge and have the energy to continuously pick things up again.

On a deeper level, self-care needs to support mind-body wellness.  Our bodies have wisdom.  For example, when our needs are not met – such as safety and security, love and belonging or peace and fulfillment – we feel it as pain in our gut, heart and head respectively.  In our work, we connect with patients and listen to the stories of how their needs are not being met. 

It is unrealistic to think that our bodies will not react at times.  But we can take the healthy step forward by paying attention to the tension in our own bodies and respond with self-compassion.  To help ease tension, simply take notice of any tension or discomfort with non-judgment and then take a moment to breathe and concentrate there.  Deep breathing activates the body’s relaxation response or parasympathetic nervous system which works to counter the effects of the fight-flight instinct and supports healing.   

This essentially creates a sort of wellness dialogue between our mind and body.  This is experiential which goes beyond intellectual rationalizing in order to feel safe and unaffected by the pain we treat.

Finally, finding time to honor our primary relationships strengthens our inner circle and supports us.  Most of us have had the experience of having a very good relationship at some time and feeling energized and inspired by it even if all the other areas of our life were not going well.  

On the other hand, if our primary relationships are strained, even if everything else is good, we will most likely feel imbalanced and stuck.  So, make more and more deposits into your meaningful relationships.  This will build a reserve of goodness to allow for both partners to make withdrawals when necessary.  

It only takes a word, a note, a look or a touch to grow in this way.  When your closest family members or partner says, “I love you” pause and feel gratitude for that special gift. Then, with a full heart respond with “thank you” or “I love you, too.”  Many meditation centers have a bell to signal when it is time to begin meditation. If the practitioners do not stop what they are doing when it rings, the bell loses its meaning.  

As long as there is a pause and receipt, our sacred words and gestures will retain their power and help our relationships grow dynamically.  That is our support system and the posts we reach for when we fall.

With enough self-awareness, we can get better at noticing ourselves slipping towards burnout.  We can respond compassionately and redirect ourselves towards balance using these tips I’ve shared.  By reconnecting with the values that most likely drew us to the profession in the first place, we empower and align ourselves.  When we live authentically, we cultivate enthusiasm for work and for life – our best defense against burnout.

Todd Fink

Todd has been a behavioral health associate for Linden Oaks since graduating from Georgetown University in 2001. Musician, author, speaker, counselor and life-long student of meditation. Todd works fervently to educate people and communities on the benefits of healthy and mindful living. He draws upon extensive and diverse experiences as a health care professional, internationally touring artist and wellness presenter to connect and bridge cultures and point the way to a brighter future. 



Music and Dementia

While there is currently no cure for dementia and related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, there are several ways one can lessen the negative effects of the disease. Music therapy is one non-pharmaceutical approach that has grown in popularity over the last few decades. Music therapy has been shown to drastically improve the emotions of patients and it can have positive short-term benefits. 

Music therapy interventions can improve mental wellness, lift patient mood and help achieve individual patient goals. For those with dementia, often the goals involve improving socialization, communication and the patient’s emotional state while reducing confusion and anxiety. 

Music therapy is effective because when people learn music, the knowledge is stored in the brain as procedural memory, whereas dementia destroys the part of the brain related to episodic memory. 

“Music is a uniquely ’whole brain’ experience, and we find that often patients who have limited functioning because of their disease will still engage in music, even when they have stopped engaging in other ways,” said Bethany Squires, a licensed music therapist at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. 

There are several examples of how music, and music therapy, can help patients with dementia and other diseases. One of the most famous examples is a YouTube video of a man named Henry in the Alzheimer’s disease documentary “Alive Inside.” The video shows the vivacity, energy and faculty that returns to Henry after he hears some of his favorite songs played on an iPod. He regains some motor function and memory in the video, and he is able to respond better to questions from caregivers. 

Squires has seen similar transformations take place when engaging in music therapy with her patients. Sessions can be individualized or in groups, and can take place in many settings including mental health facilities, nursing homes, assisted living and hospice. Group sessions encourage social interaction with other participants. These sessions can also involve the use of instruments or motions in order to improve motor skills. Music therapy can also help patients create important memories with their families and loved ones.

“A music therapy group session is a great support in finding healthy and appropriate ways to express challenging emotions that often are difficult to express in other modalities,” Squires says, “especially in working to find and practice healthy coping skills, and also just to have a space to approach various treatment goals.”

Though there are many personal accounts and studies concerning the effectiveness of music therapy, including journals such as the Journal of Music Therapy, the effectiveness and usefulness of the technique should not be overestimated. Steve Swayne of the Dartmouth College Department of Music reports that although music has indeed livened up patients like Henry, those patients can still express false memories, which can lead to confusion for the patient. There is also no way of knowing if the recall brings genuine joy to the patient, or if feelings of terror or anxiety accompany the recall as the patient is mentally awakened in a possibly unfamiliar world. 

Music therapy is a globally recognized occupation, and it is recognized on a national and professional level for its ability to help patients recover or mitigate conditions. Squires has used music therapy to calm elderly patients who are confused and agitated, and to help other people with mental disorders interact with the world around them. She feels that music therapy can be an effective tool.

“It is my hope that as music therapy continues to move forward and gain ground in the US that we will be able to grow in our work alongside a range of professional clinicians in treating an even greater variety of populations and needs,” Squires said. “While music therapy is not a replacement for traditional medicine and therapies, I believe firmly that it works cohesively in combination with those disciplines to promote health, healing, recovery and wellness for the whole person - mind, body, and soul.”

  1.  The Dangers of Overestimating Music Therapy. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/the-dangers-of-overestimating-music-therapy/374402/.  
  2. Music therapy for dementia symptoms. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10796604.
  3. How Does Music 'Awaken' Alzheimer's Patients? | Power of Music. Available at: http://www.livescience.com/19765-music-alzheimers-patients-memory.html.
  4.  Music can help dementia, stroke patients remember. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/music-can-help-dementia-stroke-patients-remember-1.3442854.
  5. Music Therapy in Mental Health - Evidence-Based Practice Support. Available at: http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/bib_psychopathology.pdf.  
  6.  The Journal of Music Therapy.  Available at: http://jmt.oxfordjournals.org/.