Self-care is crucial to the well-being of anyone — especially therapists who are always looking out for the well-being of others. Stress, burnout, and professional impairment are all prevalent among mental health professionals, and this can have a negative impact on their work.
For professionals working toward the psychological wellness of others, self-compassion and self-awareness, and healing are essential. The more stressed a therapist becomes, it becomes more difficult for them to exercise flexible and creative thinking. This can make it hard to help patients reframe their own thoughts, which is a crucial component of the patient’s therapy.
When a therapist is under stress, it’s only a matter of time before the client feels it. Therapists are responsible for modeling healthy emotions and behavior. To teach other people how to engage in self-care during stressful periods in their lives, the therapist needs to be exhibiting such behavior themselves. That can prevent a patient from taking coping strategies seriously or cause them to see the therapist as unprofessional.
What is Self-Care?
According to Gentry (2002), self-care refers to the “ability to refill and refuel oneself in healthy ways,” including “engagement in behaviors that maintain and promote physical and emotional well-being” and that “lessen the amount of stress, anxiety, or emotional reaction experienced when working with clients.”
Self-care involves being caring toward oneself. That could consist of self-reflection and knowing what one needs. Self-care means making a conscious effort to seek the resources that will foster health and well-being. Some people misinterpret self-care as a luxury, but self-care is a clinical and ethical need, especially in mental health professions. It is important that they use self-care practices that address areas of awareness, balance, flexibility, physical health, social support, or spirituality.
With between 21% and 67% of mental health workers experiencing some form of occupational burnout, therapists must take care of themselves while looking after the needs of others. Here are ten tips for therapist self-care.
1. Tune In To Your Body
Prioritize attention to your body. A proper amount of sleep, a healthy diet, and routine exercise are building blocks for well-being, and they help cope with stress. One way to do this is to establish a routine that incorporates sufficient meal breaks, regular exercise, and going to bed at a decent hour.
If you ever feel exhausted or disconnected, trust what your body is telling you, and instead of powering through it, try mindfulness and meditation. Adjusting your posture during a therapy session or moving your legs in a non-distracting way is also helpful, along with sipping on water throughout the day.
2. Establish a Comprehensive, Proactive Approach
Adopt a comprehensive, individualized approach to self-care based on your body’s needs. Everyone’s self-care looks different. Consider those things that bring joy to your life. In what situations do you find yourself able to truly relax, reflect and regroup? Create more of those experiences in your routine.
3. Establish Work Boundaries
In a national study, 72% of psychologists reported work-life balance as the number one concern and personal professional challenge. That was followed by burnout or compassion fatigue. With more professionals working from home, it can be even harder to create a good work-life balance. It’s easy for work to trickle into what should be non-working hours.
One way to differentiate the two is to add a fake commute to your day, such as going for a walk or a run when you’re done working. Do something that takes you from the work environment, out of the house to get into a different headspace, and then back home again.
If you work outside of the home, implement a ritual as soon as you get home that reminds you you’re done working for the day. For instance, you could change your clothes, turn on some music, or anything that tells the brain that work is over for the day.
Therapists are usually willing to give whatever they have left. But it may be important to rethink your patient load, especially if it will interfere with your self-care time or run into your non-working hours.
4. Take a Vacation
While a vacation may only be a temporary remedy, taking time off away from work helps most professionals recover from stress and experience positive effects that improve their well-being and job performance upon their return.
5. Embrace Flexibility
Given the pandemic, it may be difficult to seek out different mechanisms. But look for creative ways to replenish your reserves. Watching the news or scrolling through social media can be a simple task, but it also tends to add stress. Seek out events or activities that can add some variety to your life and encourage a sense of mastery, like a home improvement project or a physically distanced outdoor activity.
6. Incorporate Hobbies
Hobbies provide a positive focus for your interests and the opportunity to foster your individuality, self-expression and creativity. If you have something you enjoy doing or you find relaxing, make sure to include it in your schedule from time to time.
7. Exercise Regularly
Therapists spend a lot of time sitting. Due to this, they can experience physical health concerns, with tiredness, and neck and back pain being the most frequently reported physical health symptoms. For this reason, a balanced diet and regular physical activity are critical; most therapists often recommend it to their patients.
8. Improve Sleep Techniques
Sleep issues are prevalent among therapists, with 44% of them found to be suffering from symptoms of insomnia. Insufficient sleep is linked to exhaustion and low professional efficacy, higher levels of stress and clinical levels of burnout. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and getting ample sleep each night is recommended to promote well-being. Self-monitoring sleep habits is an effective method of improving sleep hygiene. Other effective sleep hygiene techniques are ensuring your sleep environment is restful and not going to bed hungry or thirsty.
9. Seek Support
While chronic stress may leave you wanting to be by yourself more often, now is not the time to isolate, despite our current environmental situation. It’s important to prioritize social interaction with friends and family. That can be helpful. Even taking advantage of community support groups or professional organizations can benefit. It’s not uncommon for therapists to occasionally seek therapy themselves when stress levels are high.
10. Incorporate Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice that has been linked to spiritual self-care. Mindfulness has been identified as a way to enhance clinician awareness, acceptance of limitations, and clarity about self in relation to others. Mindfulness helps clinicians to cope more effectively with difficult situations. Therapists who use mindfulness report improvements in their levels of attention, self-awareness, self-compassion, capacity for empathy, and ability to tolerate difficult emotions.
Burnout in mental health professionals is a genuine problem that impacts their own wellbeing and that of their clients. When a therapist fails to look after their wellbeing it’s damaging to the clients and those around them. By maintaining your wellness and a positive, open state of mind, you can better look after others’ needs and avoid stress and burnout. Self-care has proven to be invaluable. The practices contained within this article can easily be accommodated into the busiest of days and add self-care moments that may otherwise be lost, benefiting both the therapist and client.