Board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) play a vital role in creating and implementing applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy programs, supporting the growth and development of their learners. However, BCBAs and other ABA professionals are known to experience high levels of burnout. Burnout encompasses the physical, emotional, and psychological exhaustion resulting from ongoing workplace stress. This phenomenon has significant implications for the ABA field.
Burnout is a pervasive issue that affects individuals across various domains of life, from the workplace to academia and personal life. Finding effective strategies to rejuvenate and restore balance becomes crucial when faced with burnout. This article explores the intersection of burnout and ABA.
What are the symptoms of burnout in ABA providers?
With the unprecedented cultural phenomenon of COVID-19 and the added stresses that came along with this, the rate of burnout in the ABA industry has reached an all-time high.
Unfortunately, this is not surprising, given the nature of the work. Social work, healthcare, and other “helping fields” have been known to have a higher-than-average burnout rate.
Before we can consider strategies for beating and avoiding burnout, we must first be able to identify the symptoms of it in ourselves and our supervisees. Burnout can manifest in different ways for everyone. However, there are many common signs. So, what does burnout in ABA look like?
You may be experiencing burnout if you identify with more than a few of the following:
● Consistently calling in or arriving late
● Constantly feeling overwhelmed at work
● Reduced motivation and enthusiasm for work
● Having a difficult time focusing or getting work done without procrastinating
● Feeling like your job does not matter or you are not effective (i.e., imposter syndrome)
● Frequently getting frustrated with coworkers, clients, or organizational processes
● Feeling emotionally and physically drained
● Increased irritability or other unpleasant emotions, such as sadness or hopelessness
● Physical symptoms, such as headaches or chronic stomachaches
● Insomnia or sleeping more than usual
What are the Factors that Contribute to BCBA Burnout?
Burnout is a complicated and multifaceted experience. While additional stressors that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated feelings of burnout in ABA professionals, burnout is not new to this field. BCBAs tend to experience burnout due to a combination of factors related to their work responsibilities and personal lives.
Some of the primary factors that contribute to burnout in the ABA industry include:
- A heavy workload–BCBAs tend to wear multiple hats, balancing heavy caseloads and endless administrative duties. Long working hours and a constant balancing of expectations can create burnout. As the demand for behavior analysts continues to rise, some ABA organizations take on more clients than they can handle. This can result in assigning large caseloads or requiring staff to work with clients whose needs are beyond their scope of competence.
- A lack of resources and support–When a heavy workload is a factor of burnout, it is often paired with a lack of resources and support. Poor training or insufficient or inadequate ongoing guidance is one contributing factor. In addition to a lack of support, a lack of resources, such as streamlined data technology, scheduling, and billing resources, can make a BCBA’s job significantly more challenging, enhancing feelings of burnout.
- Unrealistic work demands–Going hand-in-hand with a heavy workload, unrealistic work demands can make a behavior analyst feel ineffective, resulting in imposter syndrome. Most BCBAs go into this line of work to help others. Feeling ineffective due to unrealistic demands and heavy caseloads can be incredibly defeating.
- Emotionally taxing work–Those working in helping professions tend to experience higher rates of burnout due to the emotionally taxing work that they do. Supporting individuals with intense behavioral needs and working through complex family dynamics can create emotional exhaustion in BCBAs.
- Workplace conflict–ABA therapy settings with high levels of conflict can increase the likelihood of burnout. Conflict may arise with clients and caregivers as a BCBA navigates sensitive situations. Conflict may also arise with coworkers, supervisees, or supervisors. Research has found that conflict in the workplace is less likely to result in burnout when one has access to supportive co-workers or supervisors (Leiter & Maslach, 1998).
What Can Be Done to Beat BCBA Burnout?
Beating BCBA burnout requires a combination of organizational support and individual self-care strategies. The following list outlines several antecedent strategies organizations can employ that may reduce the likelihood of burnout in ABA practitioners.
Implement streamlined data collection practices:
Paper and pen data systems can create unnecessary busy work for behavior analysts, making their jobs more complex and taking vital time away from client care. As such, organizations can support their staff by utilizing electronic data collection that allows for seamless data collection, analysis of data, and report writing integration.
Enhance Training Procedures: Improving
your training and onboarding procedures is another strategy for reducing burnout.
Organizations should regularly seek the feedback of their employees regarding training practices and enhance training protocols to meet the evolving needs of their teams.
The onboarding process is essential for ensuring new staff adapt to the organization’s procedures and are well-prepared for their new role.
However, training does not end after onboarding. Ongoing training and professional development should be a key focus for maintaining high-quality work and reducing the likelihood of BCBA burnout.
Think outside the box.
Consider pieces of training and resources for stress management, self-care, and burnout prevention, in addition to clinical training.
Supervision and Support: Ensure your BCBAs have access to regular supervision and support. Providing case support and organizational tools can help your BCBAs avoid overextending themselves, resulting in a lower likelihood of burnout. Find a healthy balance in supporting your team without micromanaging them.
Invest in technology and tools that make it easier for your BCBAs to do their job well–From practice management and data collection technologies to assessments and stimuli. Again, seek feedback from your team on what resources are the most essential for them.
Offer recognition and appreciation:
Don’t forget to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of your employees. As any ABA professional knows, positive reinforcement can make a significant impact on morale and work-related behaviors.
Raven Health offers ABA organizations a comprehensive solution to many of the factors that impact BCBA burnout. With a mobile platform, streamlined scheduling, and secure data collection, we aim to make the job of ABA professionals more enjoyable and less likely to evoke burnout. Allow your team to focus on enhanced client care by providing them with software that streamlines multiple aspects of their role.
BCBA Work-Life Balance Tips
Working as a behavior analyst can be both tremendously rewarding and emotionally draining.
Compassion fatigue, the experience of physical, emotional, and psychological exhaustion that results from helping others, is quite common in ABA clinicians. This can be a cause of and further exacerbate feelings of burnout.
Establishing a healthy work-life balance is crucial to reduce the impact of compassion fatigue and minimize the likelihood of burnout. Consider the following recommendations for maintaining a work-life balance and avoiding burnout.
Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries regarding your work and personal life.
For example, set specified working hours and avoid taking on tasks outside of work hours, including phone calls and emails.
Communicate these boundaries with your employer, staff, and clients at the start of a new role, and continue to communicate new boundaries as they arise.
Advocate for support: When feeling overwhelmed, communicate a need for support before you reach the point of burnout.
Pay attention to precursor signs that may indicate you’re reaching your limit.
Advocate for assistance with workload management, additional supervision, organizational tools, or whatever else would make your job easier and more manageable.
Constantly working can quickly bring on physical and emotional exhaustion, resulting in burnout.
Take time off to refresh and rejuvenate, whether a week-long vacation or a long weekend lazying around the home. Even short breaks during your workday can help you recharge.
Make self-care a priority: Prioritize self-care to reduce the impact that job-related stressors have on you. Incorporate relaxation techniques, exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies into your routines. Be sure to allocate time in your daily schedule for activities that bring you joy and reduce stress.
Reflect and adjust: Achieving and maintaining a work-life balance is an ongoing process. It’s easy to get into a rut as you go about your weekly routines, and before you know it, you’ve lost sight of your priorities.
Periodically evaluate your work-life balance and make modifications as necessary. Be flexible, as life can be unpredictable. However, be sure you are continuing to prioritize your personal needs and advocating for yourself.
Raven Health’s Mission to Equip the ABA Industry
At Raven Health, we are passionate about improving outcomes for both clients and ABA professionals.
To achieve the best possible outcomes for clients, the well-being of BCBAs and other ABA clinicians must be a top priority. We take this need seriously, tailoring our solutions to match the current and evolving needs of the ABA industry.
Raven Health is equipping the ABA industry with technology that actually makes client sessions easier. Improve your team’s job satisfaction and reduce BCBA burnout with our seamless and intuitive ABA data collection platform.
Request a demo today to see our platform in action and learn more about how we’re transforming care through technology.
If you find this information helpful, please share it with another BCBA.
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