Monday, May 14, 2012

Out of her Depth?

As more and more science is known, it seems harder to find credibility, harder to know who and what to trust.
Robyn McNeill is a New Zealand native with a new business in Brisbane, counselling and supporting people through what she calls ‘stress burnout’. I first heard Ms McNeill speak on ABC radio last week, and she set off a few alarm bells. Ms McNeill was on the publicity trail about her new business called Beating Burnout, but for some reason, her interview concerned me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. The warning sign was in the terminology she used: I had not heard of “stress burnout”.

I’ve experienced stress, and I’ve experienced burnout, and I know that they are two different things. In fact, if you google ‘stress burnout’, you won’t find the two words together as one term. Delve deeper into the scholarly articles and you will find that there is a close relationship between stress and burnout,  sometimes a causal relationship between stress and burnout, as well as a load of related conditions, syndromes, diseases, and illnesses.  
"Stress can lead to burnout but not all who are stressed are burned out ..."
PL Brill - Family & Community Health: The Journal of Health …, 1984 –
She spoke at length about her personal experiences with “stress-burnout’ and her resulting "meltdowns".
“One of the things that happened to me was that I had totally negative thinking that was out of control…I couldn’t think straight … events I should’ve been really enjoying stressed me out…” 
Ms McNeil’s symptoms during her “meltdowns” included crying on the bathroom floor, having panic attacks, ‘totally neurotic”, unproductive at work. Her coping mechanisms were either to withdraw and be negative towards people, or to drink.
These are serious signs of serious mental distress.
She described two kinds of burnout: “wired and tired” – tired but unable to sleep, or waking up early – or so totally exhausted she can’t function. There’s no doubt that she had a series of traumatic episodes. Had I seen a friend going through this, I would have bundled her off to GP after GP until I found one who would help, but I’ve had some training in recognising mental illness and working with friends and family of people with mental illness to ensure that the patient gets appropriate help. Most Australian GPs are very aware of mental illnesses, and there are various resources available to the public. I don’t know if the same is true in New Zealand.
When asked about her treatment, Ms McNeill mentioned a doctor prescribing sleeping tablets, which failed to help, and then nothing until she found an understanding GP in Australia.
For anyone suffering any kind of stress-related issues, the GP is definitely the right place to start, but what happened next? There was no mention of pharmaceutical support, psychology, psychiatry, counselling, lifestyle changes, natural therapies, spiritual support from a church, a holiday on a tropical island… So how did Ms McNeill get from a place of utter despair, where she was unable to function, to being happy and healthy, and apparently able to guide others through a potentially life-changing journey?
I don’t know, and these questions are the ones that have been on my mind since I heard her interview last week. Last night I emailed Ms McNeill with these questions, and I have read her website, Beating Burnout, and the answers aren’t there. I have received an email from Ms McNeill which addresses many of my concerns. It is posted below.
Despite a hearty search, I could not find any kind of qualification in this career area, anywhere. From the Beating Burnout website to Ms McNeil’s LinkedIn profile, there is simply nothing to indicate that she has any previous experience in counselling or training, in mental health care or referral, other than what she has learned through her own episodes of “stress burnout”.  
The fact that her only reference for burnout is a definition of ‘burnout’ is from Wikipedia suggests to me that she might be in over her head. For example, Ms McNeil’s website includes a diagram of ‘Levels of the Burnout Spiral’ (see below);

Does she assess a client’s ‘burnout level’, or is the level a self-assessment conducted by the client? At what point does she refer clients to a qualified practitioner? How would she react if a Level 4 or 5 client displayed suicidal tendencies? Would she recognise the signs? Would she know what to do?
My purpose in writing this post is not to damage anyone’s business or reputation. I am simply very concerned that the Beating Burnout business lacks the professional experience and expertise to identify and deal with the range of serious medical problems associated with stress, burnout (they aren’t the same), anxiety, and related issues.

Why Do I Care?
As someone who has experienced depression, both as a survivor and as a carer for someone with depression, I’ve had 27 years of hearing the lingo evolve. My interest started well before my first semester at uni, in my first Psychology lecture in 1984, continued through my own challenges, to more recent involvement behind the scenes in a programme called Help A Mate designed to assist our rural communities tackle mental health issues.
I’ve watched and experienced our society change its attitude towards mental illness, including stress-related conditions. I have an undergraduate major in psychology, and have studied natural therapies, and more recently, organisational change management, a new career pathway which focussing on helping organisations to minimise the stressful effects of workplace change.


I have received a response to my email, which I've copied and pasted below, in full. I will leave it to you to assess this information.

Hi there Sally

Many thanks for your email and great that you were listening in last week.  Yes, as part of my previous PM roles, I have worked alongside organisational change specialists and have been involved in implementing significant change for people with the roll-out of new information management systems.

I finally found the right people to help me when I moved to Brisbane.  They included a GP who recognised stress burnout, a naturopath who helped me get my body working again, a Counsellor who helped me understand how we constantly perceive the future, based on the past and how to communicate what I wanted better, and a wonderful lady who does Pranic Healing and counselling using the Byron Katie principles - really helped me to get my negative thinking under control. 

I have spent the last two years training part-time with the NeuroLeadership Group, who offer a fantastic framework in which to coach people.  Their framework/training suited how I wanted to work with people, as it focusses on our brains and our thinking, habits and behaviours.  It is very much aligned with what I had to do to turn my life around - which was to get my thinking, habits and behaviours under control and to know how to better manage by stress triggers, but understanding why I reacted the way I did.

I now combine my personal experience and my certification as a Neuroleadership Coach to deliver the Beating Burnout programs.  At this stage, I do not believe that Coaching services are claimable as part of your health insurance.

The model for my business is to have facilitators/business managers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, which I am currently setting up.  So for now, I am delivering all programs in Brisbane.

Can't remember which book it was I mentioned on radio and there is no pre-reading recommendations before attending one of my seminars.  

I have a special women's only stress prevention/intervention workshop coming up this Friday 18 May at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane - "Beating Burnout for Women who need a Wife"
It's a three hour event (12 - 3pm) and is going to be a hands-on workshops where participants work through recognising, acknowledging and managing their stress triggers and levels. Investment is $55.00 including lunch.

Details and tickets are available from my website if you would like to join us. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me again if you would like any additional information.

Kind regards


  1. It's scary when people who are not really qualified practice as counsellors or therapists or mental health practitioners. I mean, as a psychologist you need to be registered in this country but it's not necessarily the case for others in order to practice. And then you can have dodgy people misdiagnosing what could be a serious mental health problem!! Thanks for enlightening us...

  2. It's very hard for those who don't like to counsel their thoughts along with they like.
    For a conusller very important part is to practice properly because in lack of practice they can loose their grip or may be weak. This condition could create some problem for them.
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