Self-Care Tips for Therapists and Counselors
Are you taking care of yourself?
When you dedicate your life to helping others, it takes a toll. Burnout is real, especially in the mental health field. If you’re not careful, you can marginalize yourself to the point where you end up marginalizing others, specifically your clients.
To be the best version of yourself, self-care is necessary.
In this post, we’ll discuss easy, but essential, ways to prevent burnout and contribute to your overall wellbeing. Let’s get started.
The Signs of Burnout
So, what are the signs of therapist burnout? Here are the most common telltale symptoms:
- Compassion fatigue*
- Depersonalization of your clients (you start referring to clients as “cases” and not people)
- Feelings of isolation
- Mental exhaustion
- Physical exhaustion
- Trouble concentrating
*According to Dr. Charles Figley, “Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” Learn more about compassion fatigue here.
If you have any of the above, you may be experiencing burnout. The sole remedy is self-care. But even if you’re not there yet, self-care is still a great preventative measure to take.
Understand What Self-Care Means For You
Everyone has a different definition of self-care. For some, it may be hanging out with friends. For others, it may be curling up with a good book.
What does self-care mean for you? What rebuilds your sense of self and nourishes you?
Make a list of the top five things you can do (or not do) this week to accomplish your mandate to self-care. Get specific. Don’t just write “eat well”—describe what you’re going to eat. Don’t just write “exercise”—write it into your schedule with ink.
As long as it remains in the nebulous realm of ideas, self-care will always stay an intention. However, when you write it down and make it an indelible part of your day, it’s harder to forget about.
Get a Hobby
Why not take up a hobby? Or recall a hobby that you once delighted in before you began your private practice? From photography to cooking to horseback riding, there must be something you enjoy doing that doesn’t involve your day job.
Research shows that hobbies, no matter the type, have mental and physical benefits. Lower blood pressure, reduced stress, and reduced cortisol levels are some of the perks of doing what you love. Having a hobby also wards off depression, relieves stress, and helps you stay in the present.
Take a Vacation
There’s no debating it: You need a vacation. You can’t keep giving yourself if there’s nothing left to give. The best way to recharge is to unplug.
You may be thinking that you can’t afford to go on vacation, but I’ll argue that you can’t afford not to go on vacation. The monotony of daily life has a way of chipping away your perspective. Taking a break (especially if it includes a tropical beach or hiking trails) can restore your perspective.
For more tips, check out this post on how to take and afford a vacation as a private practice owner.
And, if you don’t have the time (or funds) for a vacation, at least do this:
Schedule Breaks Throughout the Day
One of the best ways to practice self-care on a daily basis is to allow yourself room to breathe. Don’t pack your day with back to back appointments. While that tactic may be good for your financial bottom line, it doesn’t do much for your mental health.
When you’re working through the crises and mental anguish of your clients all day, it’s crucial to step away and take time for yourself. Not only will mini-breaks will help you decompress after a particularly challenging or exhausting appointment, but these breaks will also give you a renewed perspective for the next appointment.
Make it possible to squeeze in 15 or 20 minutes between each session. Even if you spend this time writing notes about the previous session, it will still be time well spent for collecting your thoughts and regaining your perspective.
Reconsider Your Payer Mix
This tip is probably one of the most surprising on the list. However, what’s really surprising is how stressful it is to work exclusively with (make that “for”) an insurance company.
Jumping through hoops to get paid, making sure that the client is covered for your services, accepting lower rates, seeing more clients—all of this extra work can put an ever-increasing strain on your shoulders.
If you’re taking in too many third party payer clients, consider diversifying your mix. If you haven’t already, why not open your private practice to self-pay clients?
Consider the benefits of implementing a self-pay strategy in your private practice, even if you don’t switch over exclusively. When you don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, it can alleviate your stress and contribute to your overall wellbeing. By accepting multiple types of payers in your practice, you won’t feel like you’re a slave to one insurance company.
Connect With Other Therapists
Even though you work with people, as a therapist, you may feel isolated. Unless professionally necessary, it’s not like you can openly discuss your clients with others. So, bound by privacy and ethics, you definitely can’t share what’s going on at work with your loved ones.
The good news is you’re not alone. Connect with other therapists who understand and empathize with you.
Prevent isolation by joining support groups and online forums. Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, and Psychology Today are some of the best resources for finding other mental health therapists. Connect and commiserate with others who understand the unique challenges of working in mental health.
Additionally, get active in your local organizations. Network with local therapists. This will allow you to build a mutually beneficial referral network, too.
Lastly, work with your own therapist. You already know the benefits of therapy, so why not partake? I don’t have to convince you that seeking out therapy is a great way to take care of yourself. Who says the therapist doesn’t need a therapist? This is particularly important if you find yourself internalizing your client’s issues.
You may be in private practice, but you don’t have to do it all. A lot of us, especially those with the drive to start a private practice, often put too much on our plates. In addition to being the therapist, you’re also the receptionist, the practice manager, the bookkeeper, and the housekeeper. I can guarantee you that if you’re doing all of those things, you’re not doing all of them well.
If you dread going to work, because it is work and no longer something you love and are passionate about, it’s a sign that you’re suffocating.
Stop suffocating and hire help.
Even if you can only afford to hire someone on a part-time or contractual basis, it can contribute to your overall peace of mind.
Consider when you need help the most.
Are you going on vacation and need someone to man the phones while you’re away? Hire someone to work as a temporary answering service.
Do you need help with your taxes? Contract with your accountant every few months to help you sort through everything.
Need a practice manager? Invest in an all-in-one practice management solution like TheraNest that allows you to make appointments, handle billing, create therapy notes, and store and manage client charts.
Whether you’re investing in a new technology or working with a virtual assistant, remember that these resources will only help you be a better therapist for your clients.
Before you go, check out these related posts: