WHY WORK? BURN-OUT IDENTIFIED
Written by Puck Barendrecht
Image: Caspar Claasen, from the series and book publication ‘Even Firemen’
Last Thursday night the first ‘Sceneries-event’ took place linked to the new FOTODOK exhibition ‘WHY WORK?’. Our guests enjoyed an evening with a guided tour, a meal prepared by restaurant SYR and we discussed the specific subject burnout. As FOTODOK staff member I sat in on this evening, I didn’t expect it but it changed my perspective on the subject.
Thanks to Sceneries I realized that when we imagine what a burnout is, we most of the time think of the cause of the problem: heavy workload, performance orientation of our society, always being online so always ‘switched on’. But what is our view of all that comes afterwards? When the burnout is present in all its intensity and makes work impossible? Or when step-by-step things are looking up and the issue arises how to make the best of a new start? Typical to Sceneries is to analyze a certain subject from both a perspective on image and a perspective on theory. This evening our guests were photographer Caspar Claasen and Jan Willen Vonk, owner and job coach at mental health care service provider Astare.
Caspar Claasen started off and told us about his recently released photo book ‘Even Firemen’, about the burnout he ended up with in the autumn of 2013. What caused it he described as follows: ’stuff you carry around for a long time that suddenly erupts.’ It wasn’t possible for him to work as photographer and visual designer. During this period, when fear and depression were predominant, he spent a lot of time with his daughter Lora. And though Caspar couldn’t work as photographer, he also couldn’t let go of photography altogether.
He spent a lot of time with his daughter – happy moments for her – that he photographed. The images don’t show just Lora, but in essence the projections of Caspar’s experiences and feelings at these moments. It was this participating in very different situations and recording his experiences through his daughter, that paved the way for him to feel better, bit-by-bit. Caspar told that where at a certain point his fears determined his reality, he could face these fears gradually with the help of his daughter and experience that things could be otherwise. In the effort to have a good time with his daughter, his situation really gradually improved.
In response to this personal story in images, Jan Willem Vonk spoke about his experience as job coach in mental health care. He talked about a method for treatment that focuses on the wishes and ambitions of the client, for instance in finding work. An obvious concept, you would think, but not so in psychology for a long time. ‘Current psychology is like the cafeteria model, there is too little choice’ says Jan Willem. Often the caregiver decides what’s best for someone without integrating the ideas of the client in the treatment. Taking the time to find out what someone self feels as important and wants to do is of the very essence. The proof we saw in Caspar’s story: despite everything he went on photographing and in the end it helped him to overcome his burnout.
On my question how to deal with a situation in which a client has certain wishes that are absolutely contrary to what might be good for him or her, Jan Willem said: ‘I’ll never say that it isn’t possible, but we find out together what the possibilities are. This gives the client insight in what is or is not realistic.’
We heard two very personal stories about burnouts this evening, in both stories it’s not the definition of the actual facts or coming up with the solution, but engage in conversation and a personal approach is the right answer here. Both speakers indicated that a burnout changes who you are and no treatment should aim at bringing back the person you were before. What it can do is to bring people closer to whoever they would wish to be in the future. Not by forcing people into fixed patterns or debates on the ‘usefulness’ of a certain choice, but by giving them the space to choose whom they are.