Book review: Mindful prevention of burnout in
workplace health management
by Ingrid Pirker-Binder (Ed.)
Published by Springer 2012
Reviewed by Anne Colgan, MSc, MIAHIP
I have found this book to be a source of inspiration and information to me as a practising psychotherapist and clinical supervisor. It has also impacted on my own self-care. It looks at how we have been caught up in performance, often at the expense of health. Many clients present with exhaustion due to the unreal and unfair demands of the workplace. This book sets out practical ways in which individuals can control and create meaningful work practices for themselves.
The authors included in this volume address the concept of work anytime and anywhere. Modern technology has made people more available and more accessible. Boundaries are constantly broken when employees are expected to be ‘available to take a call’ during personal time in the evening and at weekends. The editor, Dr. Ingrid Pirker-Binder, has trained in existential analysis and logotherapy, as well as international business and educational sciences. She refers to Viktor Frankl’s Meaning of Life in our engagement with work. However, loving the work is not enough; it is not just about coping mechanisms. Our work needs to accommodate and appreciate our values, and recognise the needs of our own space and our own bodies. Pirker-Binder argues, based on her biofeedback research, that the body must be allowed sufficient time to recover, and must not be subjected to prolonged strain. It is not only about relaxation but about the strengthening of the regeneration. “If people neglect the needs of the body, and in particular, its need to recover, exhaustion or illness will not fail to appear” (Pirker-Binder, 2017: 8).
In ‘The working human – The exhausted human’ (Chapter 6), Pirker-Binder looks at how, if a human does not live authentically as the person they are, but instead lives as they think they should be, an inner negative tension builds up and results in exhaustion. Understanding working time as life time is important, as of course is the idea that one may also live during work! Recovery breaks are recommended, which contradicts the notion of ‘I’ll rest when my work is done’. The author also mentions that frequent travel is detrimental to health.
This book is a good resource for psychotherapists, addressing the current pressure on people where work gets piled onto those who have a difficulty in saying no and in protecting themselves from overwork. Pirker-Binder emphasises the needs of each person in the
workplace so that self-management is attainable. One size does not fit all. Some people work well in an open space and some people need a closed door in order to concentrate. Working from home has both challenges and rewards. The challenges are the feeling of obligation to work all the time, taking no rest or breaks in order to rejuvenate.
There are very good chapters on food supplements and how food can be medicine or poison. The authors, Spona, Moser and Pirker-Binder, state that good nutrition is necessary for survival and is a fundamental pillar of prevention, while constant stress can lead to a multitude of complaints. There are very practical tips and pieces of well researched information throughout the book. Systems management and diagnostic tools are recommended in measuring and exploring the health and work culture of an organisation.
There are many contributors to this book, which broadens its perspective. Biofeedback, for instance, is recommended to find out what is going on in the body, and to suggest specific changes which can be made to aid regeneration where needed. Knowledge about the functions of the body can provide protection against burnout, which is a scourge in today’s workplace.
Interestingly, Pirker-Binder argues for a place for ‘business psychotherapy’ as a field that “combines economic knowledge with psychotherapeutic knowledge about psychological health” (2017: 236). Business coaching alone will not have the capacity to support major change, and this is where psychotherapy can come into play. The training and experience of psychotherapists can bring great support and wisdom to the workplace. There are several examples in the book which show the daily demands and challenges in the workplace and discuss work-life integration, on living and working ‘in flow’. There would certainly appear to be a need for “Occupational and business psychotherapy… dedicated to prevention, personality training, short-term therapy and counselling” (Pirker-Binder, 2017: 236).
Anne Colgan MSc, MIACP, MIAHIP, MECP, SIAHIP works in private practice as a psychotherapist and clinical supervisor. She also works with voice and psychotherapy in enabling clients to discover and nurture their authentic sound. She is currently the Chair of the Irish Council for Psychotherapy.