This is not burnout. Not secondary trauma. Not even compassion fatigue. It is plain and simple the situation of working too much in too short a time. I don't think I'm the only helping professional to have this- nor even the only human being to. Every profession and vocation can experience overload- too much work.
In times of recession I am prone to think to myself "just be glad you have good employment!" However, too much thinking like that just adds to the overload. How does this affect my work? Not all negative as one might at first think. I believe I develop efficiencies that stay useful long after overload lessens. For example, ways of keeping track of appointments, following up, billing, etc. that serve me well even in lighter workload times. Another positive benefit of overload is increased income! Let's don't forget that. But there are some negatives as well- inadvertent double-booking of clients, lack of ability or time to respond to phone calls in a timely manner, slower paperwork overall (since client work always trumps paperwork).
The difference to me between overload and burnout is my own affective response. Sometimes I get enlivened and excited about the glut of work- not so when burnout is present. Additionally, the positive stress of overload can increase my creative thinking- thinking on my feet or on the go sometimes yields new ideas yet untried. This too is absent when my condition is more akin to burnout. In overload I can empathize with my clients overload as well- maybe that's the ultimate genesis of this particular blog. I have so many overloaded clients now- parents with too much work in too short a time. That is, their job of parenting includes end-of-school parties, soccer tournaments, field days, field trips, cleaning out lockers, driving kids to events, graduations, parties, etc. etc. and all this on top of the paid jobs they hold as well. Overload! Let's sing it with vigor, but be grateful when the song is done. Some other time maybe I will blog about the slow times.... but right now I'm too busy!
Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.