Butterflies, Burnout, and the Great Reimagination

Written by Jamie Harvie

Jamie Harvie serves as the PRATI Interim Executive Director and is an innovative systems thinker working at the leading edge of institutional and organizational change. Jamie offers a collaborative leadership style and practice which has resulted in highly successful national and local collaborations. He is nationally recognized for his extensive experience at the nexus of health, community, environment and healthcare and has been interviewed and cited in media including Time Magazine, USA Today, and National Public Radio.

At a recent KAP training, I shared lunch with John, a paramedic, whose district extends over the front range of Colorado. As we got to know one another, he described how over the last few years the majority of his calls are mental health related. A big change. We know that through the loss of loved ones, isolation, and more, COVID has increased the prevalence of anxiety and depression. Moreover, ecological grief and the existential threat of climate change is fostering climate anxiety. In a study of young adults, 75% of the respondents had anxiety about the future and half of the respondents had difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and enjoying relationships.

Across society and workplace cultures, a misalignment of values and out-of-control stressors are resulting in an existential crisis that manifests in symptoms of burnout — exhaustion, cynicism, self-doubt, detachment, and helplessness. What does it mean to be human on a living planet? What is our collective story? What is healthcare for?

A Burnout Crisis

Within healthcare, burnout is considered a crisis with greater than 50% of nurses, physicians, and psychotherapists reporting burnout in their jobs. Burnout is caused by systemic stressors such as perceived lack of control and values misalignment within a hierarchical healthcare workplace which depletes physical, spiritual, and emotional reserves. Unlike machines, humans require a sense of purpose and meaning, supportive relationships, and life balance to maintain their life force. Personal resilience is not sufficient when we require systemic transformation.

As living systems, humans and their organizations are by definition constantly evolving and seeking balance and right relationship. It is no surprise that many healthcare providers are leaving the profession, which has been mired in unrelenting emails, electronic medical records, relative value units (RVUs), and transactional patient interactions. From an employment perspective, we are truly witnessing a great resignation.

Yet, we can also appreciate this exodus as a great reimagination in which those exiting the workplace can imagine a different system, a different structure, a different way to live that is connected to their core purpose. They are not resigned; they are rejecting an unsustainable system and are ready to build a better world. Concurrently, health systems are investing in Chief Wellbeing Officers to explore and address healthcare burnout. Those that are getting it right are implementing bottom-up solutions, supporting collaborative decision-making, and enacting emergent strategies from the collective wisdom of the system — fostering systemic transformation and organizational self-healing from within.

Psychedelic Medicine’s Role in Healing Burnout

It is fitting that psychedelic medicines are becoming mainstream in the midst of the burnout crisis. Their ability to enhance neuroplasticity and personal transformation are ideally suited to the complexity and need for healthcare transformation. While not a panacea, recent research on group Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) with frontline workers has shown that KAP, “provides a platform for processing trauma with peers, more effectively building community and reducing feelings of isolation compared to individual treatment.” 

Anecdotally, KAP is reducing burnout by re-instilling joy and purpose in therapists while they witness first-hand their clients transforming, healing, and becoming unstuck.  As I describe in my recent paper Psychedelics and Health: A Sacred Economics Path to Restoring Wholeness, “by supporting wholeness — a state of well-being and balance of mind, body, and spirit — psychedelics have the potential to catalyze a shift from a broken healthcare system towards a new, holistic system, and move the world toward a life-sustaining society.” 

Fundamentally, humans are wired for connection; deeply woven into the collective human psyche is the awareness of the holistic interdependence of all life. At PRATI, we acknowledge that Spirit is the source of Wholeness that the psychedelic medicines help us return to. It is central to the healing power of our work, despite our imperfect attempts to grasp and define it. Therein lies its beauty.

Monarch Butterflies and the Potential for Transformation

When I was a child, species extinction and climate change weren’t in the zeitgeist, and the pesticide glyphosate (Roundup TM), now regularly found in rainfall and urine, had not been invented. This month, we learned that the monarch butterfly is now considered endangered, largely as a result of glyphosate pesticide-related habitat loss and climate change stressors; these human-derived stressors link the community of life. According to Mexican tradition, the return of the migratory monarch represents the annual return of the souls of ancestors. What does it mean for us a human species to lose the souls of our ancestors? Our hearts and heads tell us that our current mindset of disconnection is not life-sustaining and that it is time to reimagine a new story.

Within all caterpillars are imaginal cells, progenitor cells dormant until metamorphosis begins to occur, after which they arise within the interior of the cocoon to create an entire living structure radically different from where it came; we know it as a butterfly.

Let us be awed by the butterfly and be reminded that this same potential for transformation and self-healing exists within and around us all. It is happening every instant. And despite what is reinforced in popular media, we are not alone in this great mystery. If we have any doubt, we only need listen to our planet and plant teachers.  

Stay tuned for some news on Group KAP Training, feel welcomed to our upcoming webinar on climate change and planet teachers, and feel our appreciation for your continued support. It is a joy to be in community with you.

Happy Summer,

Jamie

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