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Herman & Wallace Blog

Practitioner Burnout

While my dad was visiting Michigan, we had the day to ourselves as my kids were in school. I was so excited to have quality time with my dad. Unfortunately it was pouring down rain. We decided on a leisurely brunch and then a movie. Dad chose the movie, “Wind River.” While not a movie I would normally pick, I was happy to go along. A little more than half way through…there was a horribly violent scene against a young women. I panicked, plugged my ears and closed my eyes. Unfortunately some images were burned into the back of my mind. When the movie was over, I remained seated and tears just came. My dad held me while I cried. I was able to calm down and leave the theater, but the images continued to bother me. During the next few days, I made it a priority to care for myself and allow my nervous system to process and heal.

What happened to me? I have never had any traumatic personal experience. Why did I react so strongly? I talked with my therapist about it and she suggested I might have experienced secondary traumatic stress. We know, as pelvic health therapists, we need extra time to hear the “stories” of new patients. We do our best to create a safe space for them so they can trust us and we can help them discover pathways to healing. Yet no one has taught us what we are supposed to do with the traumatic stories our patients share. How are we to cope with holding space for their pain? How do we put on a happy face as we exit the room to get the next patient?

Teaching Capstone over the last few years, Nari Clemons and I have talked with many of you who were feeling emotionally overloaded especially when treating chronic pelvic pain and trauma survivors. Some of you were experiencing job burnout, others were deciding maybe it was time for a career shift, away from the pelvis. We realized something needed to be done as our field was losing talented pelvic health therapists. We have also struggled ourselves with various aspects of our profession.

There are no studies that directly look at job burn out, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue among pelvic health physical therapists. Yet these problems are common among social workers, physicians and other people groups in health care. There are individual as well as institutional risk factors that lead to the development of each. The solution, as one self-help module puts it, is developing resilience. A large part of this skill is making self-care a priority. The basics such as adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise are foundational. Meditation, mindfulness, therapy, and spiritual practices, as well as supportive friends/groups are also imperative.

Nari and I realized that training to develop resilience in therapists was missing. Initially we equipped ourselves to have better boundaries, ground ourselves with meditation, mindfulness and exercise, which enhanced our skills in dealing with complex, chronic patients. We compiled what we have learned and want to share it with you. We would like to invite you to attend Holistic Interventions and Meditation: Boundaries, Self-Care, and Dialogue. We have designed this 3 day course to be partially educational and absolutely experiential. We are going to dig deeper into ways to calm our patient’s and our own nervous systems, explore and practice the latest recommendations on treatment of persistent pain, we will mediate and learn about mediation, play with essential oils, learn some new hands on techniques, and support and encourage one another as we build communication skills. We want you to leave feeling refreshed and equipped to continue to treat patients without losing yourself in the process. We want to invest in you so you can continue the investment you have made in your career and avoid job burnout, compassion fatigue and secondary trauma. We invite you to develop the resilience you need for a rewarding career in pelvic health physical therapy by joining us in Tampa this January.


Cieslak, R., Shoji, K., Douglas, A., Melville, E., Luszczynska, A., & Benight, C. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of the relationship between job burnout and secondary traumatic stress among workers with indirect exposure to trauma. Psychological services, 11(1), 75.
Meadors, P., Lamson, A., Swanson, M., White, M., & Sira, N. (2010). Secondary traumatization in pediatric healthcare providers: Compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying, 60(2), 103-128.
Sodeke-Gregson, E. A., Holttum, S., & Billings, J. (2013). Compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress in UK therapists who work with adult trauma clients. European journal of psychotraumatology, 4(1), 21869.
Stearns, S., & Benight, C. C. (2016). Organizational Factors in Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress. In Secondary Trauma and Burnout in Military Behavioral Health Providers (pp. 85-113). Palgrave Macmillan US.

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Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

Pregnancy Rehabilitation - Seattle, WA (SOLD OUT)

Feb 22, 2020 - Feb 23, 2020
Location: Pacific Medical Centers

Manual Therapy Techniques for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist - Pasadena, CA

Feb 22, 2020 - Feb 23, 2020
Location: Huntington Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Alexandria, VA (SOLD OUT)

Feb 28, 2020 - Mar 1, 2020
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Pediatric Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders - Charlotte, NC

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Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
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Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
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Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Columbia, MO

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Mobilization of the Myofascial layer: Pelvis and Lower Extremity- Grand Rapids, MI

Mar 6, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
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Bowel Pathology and Function -Salt Lake City, UT

Mar 7, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: Veterans Administration - Salt Lake City

Postpartum Rehabilitation - Washington, DC (SOLD OUT)

Mar 7, 2020 - Mar 8, 2020
Location: GWUH Outpatient Rehabilitation Center

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Virginia Beach, VA (SOLD OUT)

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Sentara Therapy Center - Princess Anne

Pelvic Floor Level 2A - Philadelphia, PA (SOLD OUT)

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Thomas Jefferson University

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Manchester, NH (SOLD OUT)

Mar 13, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Franklin Pierce University

Meeks Method for Osteoporosis - Minneapolis, MN

Mar 14, 2020 - Mar 15, 2020
Location: Park Nicollet Clinic--St. Louis Park

Pelvic Floor Level 2A - Minneapolis, MN (SOLD OUT)

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Allina Hospitals and Clinics

Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist - San Diego, CA

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Comprehensive Therapy Services

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Birmingham, AL (SOLD OUT)

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Shelby Baptist Medical Center

Mobilization of Visceral Fascia: The Urinary System - Carlsbad, CA

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Tri-City Medical Center

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Bellingham, WA (SOLD OUT)

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: PeaceHealth- St. Joseph Medical Center

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Los Angeles, CA (SOLD OUT)

Mar 20, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Mount Saint Mary’s University

Breastfeeding Conditions - Phoenix, AZ

Mar 21, 2020 - Mar 22, 2020
Location: Banner Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Breathing and the Diaphragm: Orthopedic Therapists - Sterling Heights, MI

Mar 27, 2020 - Mar 29, 2020
Location: Henry Ford Macomb Hospital

Breathing and the Diaphragm: Pelvic and Orthopedic Therapists - Sterling Heights, MI

Mar 27, 2020 - Mar 29, 2020
Location: Henry Ford Macomb Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Corvallis, OR (SOLD OUT)

Mar 27, 2020 - Mar 29, 2020
Location: Albany Sport & Spine Physical Therapy

Breast Cancer Rehabilitation - Alexandria, VA

Mar 28, 2020 - Mar 29, 2020
Location: Inova Physical Therapy Center