Striking a Work-Life Balance with Dr. Songy
Dr. Songy is, quite literally, the reason inDEPTH exists! He has been a dear friend of mine for over a decade. Dr. Songy introduced me to his brother-in-law, Mickey, who is inDEPTH’s other co-founder. We asked him to wield his impressive background in counseling to discuss the freelance lifestyle, burnout, mental health, and work-life balance, something we can all benefit to better understand.
1. Please introduce yourself! Who you are, where you’re from, and what you do.
My name is Donny Songy, I’m from New Orleans, and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor currently in private practice.
2. Tell us about your work. What does your day to day look like? What is your overall “mission” as a licensed therapist?
I see couples, families, and individuals (ages 14 and up) about five days a week. I usually get up, make coffee and breakfast for me and my beautiful wife before she heads to work, then head to the office around 10 AM. Once I get there, I try to do some deep breathing meditation and mindfulness exercises for about 30-45 minutes. I also like to give some additional time to finish case notes from the previous day and also prepare for my clients scheduled for that current day. It allows me the opportunity to orientate myself mentally and emotionally so I can meet the different needs of each client. The work can be taxing at times, so it’s important to implement self-care with each day. My first set of clients show up around 12:30 – 1 PM and I provide psychotherapy until about 8 to 9 PM at night. On some days, there’s a slight break (30 minutes to an hour) so I use that to refresh, take down some critical notes from previous sessions, and prepare for the next set of clients that come in.I would say my “mission” is to provide an experiential and enriching therapeutic experience for my clients as they engage in their unique mental health challenges. Some of my clients have been receiving mental health services for many years and understand its place in their livelihood; however, others have never sought any sort of support like this. Because of this, I feel it’s essential to hold the counseling services I provide to a high standard so that I may encourage others to take priority with their own wellness.
In addition to being born and raised in New Orleans, I also practice here because this city is in dire need of counseling. We could never really have “too many mental health services” here. We’re a vibrant city with its own history and culture as well as its own set of challenges – including poverty, lack of psychoeducational resources for parents, unresolved trauma from Hurricane Katrina, familial iatrogenic strife, domestic violence, addiction, mental health related stigmas, etc. The diversity is very clear, though. I do a lot of family-systems-based counseling and love the different dynamics, philosophies, values, and characteristics of my clients. From a narrative standpoint, everyone has a story – and much of our own suffering can be understood and overcome if it’s part of a story.
4. Let’s talk about work-life balance, especially for freelancers (though you can certainly go beyond that). What are some of the challenges you see people face when it comes to balancing their professional and social/personal lives? Why do you think these problems arise? Do you think they impact certain industries or work styles more?
I’m going to go off with a few generalizations here, but I think we work too much and don’t sleep enough. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who worked full time, did private practice, and wrote a dissertation at the same time. It’s just not sustainable. It’s been embedded into our culture that a successful person doesn’t need much rest and can work until they drop, but research shows that’s simply not the case. We consider it as a sacrifice for the greater good of ourselves and our family, but there’s a law of diminishing returns in there and I believe it chips away at us in ways we don’t realize. Lack of quality sleep has been correlated with depression, anxiety, marital and familial turmoil, work performance, physiological illness and distress, etc.
We’re also incredibly stimulated, which can also be taxing for the mind. We live in a very interconnected world and, at the same time, I’ve found many people to feel lonelier than ever. Our phones, though a convenience for countless reasons, have also made it very difficult for us to establish an “off switch” to work life. I know these ideas aren’t new, but I also don’t necessarily see a shift in behavior to make me feel as though this workaholic culture is changing.
Certainly, some industries suffer from this culture more than others, but it’s found everywhere – even counselors and mental health professionals. Three industries I’ve seen this especially present in is medicine, parts of the service industry, and people who work offshore. There is no such thing as a schedule or regimen to their work life; and because of that, there are dire consequences.
5. What are some solutions you’ve seen or recommended? What can people do to determine if they are prioritizing their work and life properly? What methods can people use to correct it?
One of the things I preach often to young and up-and-coming freelancers or professionals is, if possible, to establish clear work boundaries and to stand by them. Set certain times that you don’t answer your phone or even check it. Identify your own personal limits and protect them. Once you begin to open the door and step on those limits, you also allow it to become the expectation for future opportunities. It may limit your financial outlook in the short term, but it will serve you ten-fold in the long run mentally, emotionally, and financially. Also – self-medicating only exacerbates.
6. Do you have any advice for people who maybe feel burned out or that they are spinning their wheels professionally?
The first thing is to not give up on the profession just yet. Sometimes a toxic environment can do great damage to career fulfillment and, even if it’s for lesser pay or growth opportunities, a change in scenery can do wonders. Assess your own self-talk and check if you’re implementing self-compassion into your daily life. Breaking away from “auto-pilot” is a big deal too. If you feel that you’re in a rut, switch it up a bit. Also take note of who you surround yourself with and evaluate if they’re contributing to the echo chamber of negativity. Go back and reflect on what were some of the major parts of why you got into this venture in the first place and see if you can still generate those experiences, either in your current job or elsewhere. Take a look at your goals and assess if they’re attainable or even realistic. Breaking down larger goals into smaller, more tangible ones, can also help build motivation and drive.
7. Do you have any great success stories you’ve experienced or seen with people trying to find their work/life balance?
Though I have to protect confidentiality, I’d say it happens all the time in my office. Counseling allows the world to stop spinning so the person or family can sit back and process what they’re thinking and feeling non-judgmentally. Most of my clients coming in for their intake session report, at the very least, a heightened level of work-related-stress. One of the most enjoyable experiences as a professional counselor is watching my clients begin to practice healthy coping strategies and mindfulness so that they get a better hold of their stress. That change, alone, really makes such a difference.
8. Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for these questions and for giving me the opportunity to ramble.
You can find more thoughtful posts and content, as well as counseling services, on Dr. Songy’s website.