As therapists, we try to take the best care of our clients as possible. We empathize, validate, bear witness and sympathize with their stories. We challenge, guide, confront and encourage them to be their best. Being a therapist or mental health worker can be extremely fulfilling but it can also be extremely emotionally draining. While many of us feel that it’s an honor to care for and be entrusted with our client’s fears, anxieties and pain, while we are taking care of them, who is taking care of us?
As therapists, we spend a great deal of time encouraging our clients to assess and assert their own needs. But as we do this, we are often vulnerable to putting our own needs on the back burner. We teach our clients to prioritize self-care but many mental health workers are guilty of failing to follow our own advice. So how, as therapists, can we make sure to prioritize self-care in order to avoid experiencing burnout? What can we do to unwind from the intensity of our individual practice and client issues?
Self-care is non-negotiable. Self-care is a necessity. By maintaining a balance between your professional and personal life, with a focus on self-care, it becomes easier to be all that you want to be, both for yourself and for those around you.
Find out what makes you feel good. Self-care is individual. What works for one, does not work for another. While a colleague may need more alone time, you may nurture yourself by spending more time out with friends.
Start and end sessions on time Build in 10-15 minutes in between clients to take a bathroom break, do some deep breathing, have a snack, clear your head, or consult with another therapist. Don’t give away all your time to clients at your own expense or you’ll end up resenting them because your needs aren’t being met.
Write it in ink Take a close look at your calendar and carve out one or two hours for self-care per week and stick to it. This may take extra work, but it’s worth it.
Sneak it in where you can. If you don’t have huge chunks of time, you can still fit in little moments of relaxation. Even if you take just five minutes to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths or listen to music, it can help your reduce your stress level.
Take care of yourself physically. Getting enough sleep, eating properly foods and exercising are crucial for self-care. When you physically take care of yourself, you will reap the benefits emotionally, psychologically, health-wise, and in your relationships.
Learn how to say no. We teach our clients to know their limits. The same advice is good for us. Learn how to say no and let go of the guilt of saying no by recognizing that if we take care of ourselves first, we are better able to care for our clients.
Check in with yourself regularly. Regularly check in with yourself by asking yourself the following critical questions: Am I working too much? Do I feel stressed out? What do I need now? Am I doing too much?
Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure that the people in your life are positive, supportive and know how to enjoy life. A few good friends can make all the difference in how you experience the inevitable ups and downs of life at home and at work.