So let’s freaking face facts, being in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) is extremely rewarding and most days we looooove our job, others day are #roughaf. Our field is one that requires passion, determination, and continuous self-monitoring in order to be effective and compassionate with our evidence-based interventions. In order to be successful you must learn to have a good work/life balance. This balance is usually one of the hardest skills to acquire since ABA can be an energy vampire, but it is essential to be able to thrive in staying sane and not becoming an overworked loner.
Whether you are a badass RBT and you are de-escalating challenging behaviors on a daily basis or a clinician writing BIPs and technologicalAF treatment plans, you need to be sure to add one more very valuable skill to your ABA arsenal. This skill is one that is extremely hard to operationally define and we have to get uncomfortable and get a little mentalistic while defining it, this is the ability to recognize that ABA is an energy vampire.
Now, I know you are soooo used to being behavioralAF so let’s break down what an energy vampire is and what they do. Energy vampires are people, or in this case a profession that drains your emotional energy. Emotional energy is a neutral physiological reaction that makes a specific event (stimuli) either positive or negative. In other words, environmental stimuli and the impact they have on us is based on our current emotional energy.
For example, if you had a great weekend, you got to the gym, and ate a great breakfast. Then, you get to the clinic and find that someone is sitting in your favorite seat for this morning staff meeting. No biggie, you probably will just find another seat and go along your merry way. Now let’s take that example and give you some bad vibes and low emotional energy. The moment you walk into the room and see Bland face Becky sitting in the corner seat you may lose your shit and Bland Becky might have to “cash you outside.” LOL jk don’t fight your coworkers.
Our innate willingness to help others, listen to our client needs and work alongside our clinical team make us the perfect prey for the ABA energy vampire. When our emotional energy is drained we run into a butt-load of private events that can really mess with our positive vibes!! We may experience anxiety, fear, insecurities, depression or other emotional distress that can really damage our effectiveness in the field. I have personally encountered several situations where I realized I was emotionally drained and exhausted. In order to tackle this problem I decided to utilize some antecedent interventions to become more aware of my emotional energy supply.
- Identify precursors behaviors to your emotional exhaustion- are you like me and do you hysterically cry in your car while listening to Lana Del Rey after a long ass day full of challenging behaviors or stressful meetings? Try some mindfulness to become aware of any private events or physiological changes that you experience when you are feeling overwhelmed. Do you get headaches, indigestion, acne, or explosive diarrhea? These can all be precursor behaviors that you can take data on and intervene in order to avoid the unflattering mental breakdown and keep you on that #bigdickenergy.
- Create a self-care routine- creating a self-care routine is a MUST!! Find what works for you, PUT IT IN YOUR PLANNER, and do it. Whether you like to burn some incense #casey while tending to your bee hive, participate in competitive model boat racing, or just lay in your living room, scrolling through Instagram hand lettering videos, you have to take that time to be invested in yourself. Just freaking do it. The treatment plans and all the other 20 thousand responsibilities will still be there, take a freaking hour of your 24 hour day and just DO YOU BOO!!!
- Adjust your expectations, prioritize and set some boundaries- Revisit all of your responsibilities on a monthly basis and make sure you feel confident that you are able to handle them all. Life changes and sometimes we have to adjust with it, there is nothing wrong with saying “no” to helping others and we have to acknowledge our limits. Our ethics code reminds us that we must only take on the clients / responsibilities in which we can continuously provide effective support on. We want to maintain high integrity in our work so pick wisely which activities you invest your precious time in and prioritize those which fall within your values and morals. Setting professional boundaries can help you stay sane, working hours should be set, don’t answer work emails during family time, and make sure that you take the time to build strong interpersonal relationships!
Simply by recognizing these behaviors and trying to keep the emotional vampire in check you’re taking giant steps into protecting your mental health and avoiding burn out!!
Love you, mean it!
Karina Valdez, M.S., BCBA, LBA, IBA
About the author:
My name is Karina Valdez Gonzalez, I was originally born and raised in Mexico and currently live in El Paso, Texas working with children on the ASD spectrum in a clinic setting. I am very passionate about disseminating ABA and creating conversations to further discuss Ethical dilemmas and social changes in our field. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at El Paso #GoMiners, and a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from National University. I am currently pursuing a Doctorates in Psychology with a specialization in ABA from Capella University to someday soon teach at a Collegiate Level. I am proud SNABA Alum, pen addict, coffee lover, self-proclaimed nerd, and if I was an ABA principle I would be POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT!! @bilingualaba