Between running studies for your research, trying to get enough clinical hours, classes, comprehensive examinations, supervising undergraduates, lab meetings, teaching assistance-ships, and many other graduate school demands, it is sometimes a great accomplishment to squeeze in a few moments for lunch.
There is a general tacit agreement among graduate students and oftentimes, their supervisors, that achieving work-life balance is hard enough given the demanding schedules of graduate school, but achieving work-life-and-family balance can feel near impossible. Although it may be challenging, it is not impossible.
#Selfcare is trending, folks.
A simple internet search will turn up plenty of lengthy lists of self-care practices and scores of articles about why you should be practicing it (or else!).
There’s no lack of online wellness platforms where you can see people doing #selfcare – taking baths, exercising, cooking nutritious meals, and wearing mud masks.
And yet, with all of these self-care options from all these self-care advocates, it can be overwhelming to decide what to do and what advice to heed, if any at all.
But it seems like everywhere we go we hear about hundreds of ways to practice self-care, and why we should be doing more of it. Is it just me, or has self-care gotten kind of overwhelming?
It is important to realize that therapists need to take care of themselves as much as we tell our clients to take care of themselves. After all – we are human, too!
With heavy workloads and complex cases, it is easy to forget the impact our work can have on our physical and mental health.
Often we work in isolation, with people in crisis or pain. Alongside the normal life ‘distractions’ we have additional responsibilities in the form of professional ethics, codes of conduct, licensing issues and insurance requirements.
All these elements can add up to a big emotional and energy cost for the individual therapist so it is essential to take steps to protect ourselves. Continual professional reflection can help to identify areas where we need to take steps to ensure the weight of the work we undertake is not taking a toll on our own health.
Burnout is believed to be coined by the psychologist Dr. Herbert Freudenberger who defined it as “failing, wearing out, or becoming exhausted through excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources” .
At times, graduate school seems synonymous with burnout – it is a multi-year, grueling process of hurdle after hurdle.
There is often a mentality in graduate programs that this “suffering” is a right-of-passage of sorts, an initiation that all therapists before us endured and overcame before entering into the profession.
However, the reality is that these expectations and this laissez faire attitude, when left unchecked, can produce burnout that is of detriment to not only the physical and mental health of graduate students, but also to their productivity and quality of work. Unfortunately, for many in the psychology field, this experience does not end with graduate school.
Anger is a complex emotion. For some, it manifests as a quiet brooding, and for others it can present as explosive and uncontained. It can show up in various ways, physiologically and psychologically, and it can be interpreted differently based on the characteristics of the person expressing it. The term “protest psychosis”  was coined by psychiatrists in the 1960s and used in psychiatric literature. This “syndrome” was invented to explain away the reasonable rage of Black Americans who were demanding an end to segregation. This effort to pathologize those participating in civil rights protests is one of the many ways that anger can be (mis)interpreted based on the characteristics of the person expressing it. However anger is presenting in your life right now, I hope that you honor where you are and know that your feelings are perfectly acceptable and fully justified. We are currently facing a unique time in modern history. No matter your race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation, you are likely experiencing some degree of anger. You may be feeling angry about losing your job due to COVID-19 or, like me, you may be outraged by the recent murders of innocent Black people and the blatant disregard for Black lives. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor....
Graduate students and early-career professionals know how challenging, nay, grueling our work can be without a good night’s sleep. With all the demands of practice, coursework, family matters, research, and so forth, how can we hope to squeeze in a solid 8-hour sleep session?
Furthermore, how can we fall asleep when our minds are racing through that seemingly endless list of responsibilities and deadlines? We toss and turn and check our phones, remembering that each waking moment is wasted rest time.
All of us (well, hopefully all of us) try to practice good hygiene by bathing regularly, brushing/flossing teeth, and so forth. Yet, few of us try to practice good sleep hygiene.
Therapists are the heroes of mental health — after all, they help people cope with their problems and be healthier mentally and psychologically. Without therapists, many people would have no idea how to deal with their respective issues. However, if you’re a therapist and you’re experiencing issues of your own, there is no shame in seeking the help of another therapist.
If you’re unsure whether you need another therapist’s help, or if you’re also a client who thinks your therapist may benefit from therapy, there are signs to look out for.
When I was working on my PhD, I wore myself out like a pair of cheap socks. After a few years of reflection, self-care, and therapy, I can look through the ol’ retrospect-o-scope and give you some ideas about how to avoid the same outcome.
Here are four ways to burn out, followed by tips for self-renewal.
Ever notice yourself getting a little more irritable than normal? Finding it difficult to interact with colleagues, clients, and even family or friends? Struggling to find empathy and patience for others? This could be the result of therapist burnout. Yes, even therapists get burned out and need to take a step back in order to take care of our own needs.
Therapist burnout happens when an individual’s psychological resources are overpowered by the demands placed on them. It is an extreme kind of exhaustion that can result from working with particularly challenging populations .
Not only does burnout cause us to simply feel terrible, but it also contributes to job dissatisfaction and poor job performance. Further, it can lead to frantic job searches, and, at the extreme end, it can result in ethical violations, which may have professional repercussions for the therapist – and may harm the client.
Graduate students face unique pressures as a part of the typical doctoral experience, including isolation in projects of indeterminate length, disproportionately little pay for excessive amounts of time and effort, and supervisory relationships that can result in the success or failure of a graduate degree.
Graduate students also bear the increased responsibilities of adulthood, such as copious amounts of debt from student loans, providing spousal and/or family support, and the foreknowledge of an uncertain career trajectory following graduation.
Graduate students suffer high rates of mental health issues. A survey of graduate students at the University of California revealed that approximately 50% of graduate students suffer from some form of mental illness . Up to 87% of graduate students report feelings of anxiety, 68% feelings of depression, and up to 19% of cases report suicidal ideation .
Even students without clinically significant levels of depression or anxiety experience symptoms that hinder their work and quality of life.