The Intersections of Feminist-Psychologist-Activist and Emotional Burnout // Renee Mikorski, M. S.

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2016 has been a tough year. Prince died, Trump was elected president, and there have been countless national struggles and tragedies that have affected our collective psyche. Just recently in East Tennessee, where I live, the Smoky Mountain wildfires have killed dozens of residents and displaced thousands of others in the area. There has been a lot to complain about and mourn for in 2016.

In addition to these large-scale tragedies that (almost) anyone in the U.S. would find emotionally draining, we as psychologists have an added layer of emotional stress in that we deal with the emotions of others on a more intimate level through our work as clinicians. As we all know, clinical work can take its emotional toll on us, especially if we do not practice a regular self-care routine.

But, I am going to argue that the intersections of woman-psychologist-activist can put us as feminist psychologists in a unique position of additional emotional burden. I am speaking as a cis White woman writing this article but I can imagine that women psychologists of color, poor women, and those who identify as lesbian, bi, or trans may feel this intersectional emotional burden even more strongly. I think that we are all in a position to feel this emotional burnout in our clinical work, in our daily lives, and as activists and this puts us in an extremely vulnerable position.

As women, we are expected to take on the emotional burdens of others. For me, this has played out in my personal relationships, especially with men. I am expected to listen, and be understanding and supportive of others in their struggles. This can lead me to feel as though my own voice is not heard in the context of those relationships, which leads to inequity within the relationship.

However, not only are we as women expected to take on this role outside of therapy, our role as a therapist inherently requires that we willingly accept those burdens. Although we have all chosen this path (presumably) because we feel passionate about helping others, our work is still draining and we must acknowledge that. I think it is also easy (it has been for me at least) to dismiss our own feelings or our own exhaustion because we are expected (as women and as therapists) to provide for others and forget our own needs in both our personal and professional lives.

The last intersection that I believe influences our vulnerability to emotional burn out is activism. As feminist psychologists, the majority of us are likely involved in some sort of activism outside of the therapy room. Activism, like therapy, can be extremely emotionally taxing, especially when the oppressive forces we are fighting are dismissive and sometimes outright aggressive towards our struggles. Oppression in and of itself causes psychological distress, but actively choosing to confront this oppression on a consistent basis, as part of our professional identities, can be exhausting.

So, how do we cope with this? I have personally been struggling with this as of late, as I further solidify my identity as a feminist psychologist and an activist. How can we maintain all of these roles and not feel exhausted and burned out, especially as feminist women who are choosing to actively confront oppression on a regular basis? As the semester winds down and winter break approaches, I plan to dedicate some time to reflecting on these intersections of emotional burden and figuring out what works for me in terms of taking care of myself to maintain that stamina and strength that is required of us. Although I’d like to neatly end his post with some suggestions for self-care and rejuvenation, I think this is something that I will need to continue to reflect on as I continue to develop my identity as a woman, a feminist, a psychologist, and an activist. On that note, I wish you all a wonderful, restful, and rejuvenating winter break!

Written by Renee Mikorski, M. S.


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