Burn Out

Why do acupuncturists and other healthcare practitioners burn out?  As an energetic imbalance it seems to be either there’s not enough to keep them going  or the business is stagnating.

For a lot of practitioners burnout seems to happen due to a lack of financial security.   For those that have always struggled to make a living with their practice, this suggests that while they keep feeding their business, their business isn’t feeding them.   The stress of wondering if this month will be the month they have to make hard decisions is always there.   It takes a toll.

There are several ways of resolving this issue.   Dan Clement over at The Practitioner’s Journey suggests business coaching for those who need to a better grasp on their business skills.  This is particularly applicable to those who may have had a thriving practice but found that in this economy the patient load has dropped.  Lisa Hanfileti of Insights For Acupuncturists and Acupuncture Business School says that acupuncturists need other income sources. If you focus solely on your practice if something happens and you are gone, you may stop having any income.   This can be a real worry.   Having other income sources allows you to feel far freer from the constant treadmill of drumming up more business.

Talking to people outside the field, a therapist I know said that many in the psychology industry find that teaching classes or giving workshops helps people work through the burnout.  In this case there is another stream of income (not the passive income that Lisa discusses)  but there may not be any more security if personal disaster strikes.   However, it does allow the practitioner to work at other aspects of the business.   Writing books or articles can also be another outlet.

Other times feeling burnt out can happen when the practitioner out grows the practice as it stands.  This is more of a stagnation issue. Dan suggests in his book The Practitioner’s Journey: The Path to Success for Alternative, Holistic and Integrative Health Professionals, that the provider stop thinking of their work as a practice but as a business.   He suggests expanding.

This may mean taking on other providers (either the same modality or complementary modalities).  As others come in, this generates a larger income stream and it stretches the abilities of the practitioner to manage a larger business.   This has a couple of benefits.  The practitioner has more freedom to take more vacations and also generates more income when they are working because they are able to leverage the money they get either on rent or on the split fees from an associate.  Even taking on an employee who is paid a salary can generate more income because there now more people available to see patients.  However, if business slows, this can feel stressful.

One practitioner who works the employee model requires that the employees work a certain number of hours and are paid a salary based on that hourly wage. If they aren’t seeing patients, they need to be out marketing or using their time productively for the business.   This means that marketing duties are spread around the clinic with all the practitioners. Free time may mean phone calls or sending out information or even making sure that recall cards are sent or birthday cards are sent or working on the clinic newsletter.

Expanding the practice in this way doesn’t mean that the practitioner has to give up seeing patients altogether.   Office managers can make life much easier and allow the owner practitioner to utilize their time in any number of ways.

Making sure your business fits into your life and is not your life is important.  It’s important to feel secure in your relationship to your business and one way of doing this is to diversify, either through finding other income outlets, expanding your scope to include teaching or writing about your area of expertise and potentially becoming a business manger.   It means that for your practice or your business to continue feeding you, it has to grow in scope as well as keep you financially secure.

There are no easy answers for those facing burn out, particularly given the stresses of having a practice that may only barely pay the bills.   Working with coaches can help but it’s a scary leap of faith to spend more money when it feels like nothing will change.   Spending time on yourself in meditation or with a trusted friend or even a therapist or life coach can help the practitioner either re engage with the early feelings of excitement or else help them engage new feelings of excitement for another direction.

The next couple of articles will follow up on a couple of topics introduced here.  I want to review Dan’s book (a must read for anyone struggling or someone just starting out–and it’s not that expensive) and talk a little more about how excitement about what you do builds business.


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Bonnie Koenig has been a licensed acupuncturist since 1999. She is passionate about helping people find real healing and real health. In the process she keeps asking about our attitudes towards sickness and health. Only by being clear on what sickness is, can we ever find health.

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