From Burnout to Breakthrough: My Journey at Daraja House

A Tough Beginning

My first job in Community Mental Health was in 1998 at Daraja House in San Leandro, a suburb of Oakland, CA. It was a residential treatment center for 22 adolescent girls, 13 of whom had their own children living with them. It was a true wake-up call for me.

The residents were disadvantaged girls of mixed and diverse heritage. They called me “Miss Al.” These were the toughest girls I had ever met, and I was completely inexperienced. I didn’t think to read their case files, so I learned about their life experiences and trauma through daily interactions.

On my first day, one of the girls backed me into a corner with a knife. I yelled for help, and she backed off, but that was only the beginning. That day, I made a promise to the Universe: “I’ll stay for 3 months.” Those three months taught me more than any counseling education ever could.

I scheduled visiting teachers and alternative education programs. We did music, art, and movement, but getting the girls interested was like pulling teeth. They laughed at me and resisted my efforts, often saying, “We don’t do that. We don’t do those things.” Through one-on-one walks, they shared their lives with me, revealing the trauma of poverty and abuse, and why they had children so young. Despite the lies, manipulation, and aggression, I understood them because I have empathy and perspective.

During my last two weeks, we had a community meeting where I called the girls out on their behavior. I addressed their lying, manipulation, verbal violence, rebellion, laziness, and disengagement. Their wide eyes showed that no one had ever held them accountable like that before. Remarkably, they started to get their acts together, even if just for a short while.

On my last day, I told the girls I was leaving. They all cried and begged me to stay. “Please, Miss Al, don’t go!” I encouraged them to treat their next counselor better and to cherish the good experiences life would bring them. I felt bad about leaving, but I knew I couldn’t continue taking that kind of emotional abuse daily.

Finding Freedom and Renewal in Taking Time Off

I took a year off from counseling after that experience. Burnout is real, and that job was intense. It taught me the importance of setting boundaries and taking care of myself.

Moving Forward

Now, I focus on teaching and managing my own practice while training others in the freedom to set their own schedule and create a balanced life is priceless.

If you’re feeling burnt out, know that it’s okay to take a step back and find your own path to freedom and fulfillment.

Join a community with others who are reclaiming their energy


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Alistair m. hawkes

MA LPC | Therapist Burnout Specialist

Alistair M. Hawkes is a licensed psychotherapist and an educator for humanity’s evolution. She specializes in guiding therapists through burnout to find peace and balance.

After the toll of her practice meant she missed the warning signs her daughter was struggling, she’s been dedicated to helping fellow therapists and other caregivers lower anxiety, take off stress, and feel alive again – all while helping them stay in their profession.

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