Burnout - Kimberly Thompson

My summer caseload is always lighter than the rest of the year. That’s because I work primarily with moms, and moms are busy taking care of their kids in summer (which translates to not focusing so much on self-care). In previous summers, this dip in numbers has triggered a sense of “not doing enough.” Extra time on my hands during June, July and August was once a trigger for extra marketing and often extra projects like teaching, consulting, and contract work. This summer, though, I have decided to just go with it. I can take care of all my active clients in the afternoons, and I have the mornings to actually take care of myself. I get up at a leisurely pace, go for a run, do some laundry or dishes so that my husband and I have a pleasant atmosphere to come home to, talk to friends and family, and plan a meal or two. This schedule makes me happy and I look forward to going to work.

I recently added up all the time I was spending at the office and realized that I was cramming more than a 40-hour workweek into 3 1/2 days. And it’s not like the other day and a half each week were spent relaxing! Rather, I was perpetually busy catching up on phone calls, charting, and the billion other tasks that come with running a private practice. No wonder I was feeling burned out. No wonder I dreaded those three days a week when I spent almost 12 hours at the office.

So why would I consider going back to the old schedule once fall arrives? Plain and simple, it’s mostly guilt. I don’t think I’m much different from the average mom when it comes to this: Feeling as if I’m slacking if I’m not working myself down to the bone. I don’t know where it comes from. Probably a combination of a deeply ingrained work ethic, a sense of time rushing by, and (oh yes) feeling like I have to somehow “make up” for those 14 years I spent at home full-time and for those 12 years I spent in school. There’s also a little fear: What bad things will happen if I’m not working so much? 

I know that some of you reading this work a lot because you have to. This post is not about that kind of work.  It’s about the kind of work that we voluntarily take on because we feel guilt or somehow less than if we don’t. It’s about taking on so much of that voluntary work that we are spent, wasted, and burned out. I wish I was immune to the temptation to work too much, too long, and too hard – but I’m not. That said, my work depends on my creativity and my ability to be fully present with each person, each hour. Those things depend upon how deeply and fully I take care of myself.

I don’t know what my work schedule will look like in the months to come. I’ll be playing around with what feels right once the summer doldrums have passed. It’s possible that all I need is a summer break. However, I certainly don’t want to be driven by guilt and fear. Especially at my time of life – older, empty nest, but still in a highly generative mode – regular reevaluation of what I should be spending my time on, and how much of it I should be doing, is crucial. Actually I think it’s crucial for everybody. Including those moms who are putting off therapy until school starts again. 🙂


I’m Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist with a maternal mental health practice in Lubbock, TX. From pre-conception to the empty nest, mothers can work with me in-person and online. Download my free e-book, The Busy Mom’s Self-Care Planner, and bring yourself into your circle of care. You can also find my book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, on Amazon and the Praeclarus Press website.