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!

Challenges of Taking Care of Yourself

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.

Managing Paperwork can Help You

One area, which can easily remove a large part of the risk associated with our work, is to take care of the administration required by our work. To do this effectively you must be honest with yourself about how much you can or want to do yourself and how much you can ask a colleague or assistant to do for you.

If paperwork is not one of your strengths, it is worth looking at contracting out or delegating as much as possible to other people to do for you.

Once you have a routine for paperwork and are confident it is taken care of, you can focus better on your clients and your own needs.

Accounting for Emotional Strain

There is a high emotional cost to us as individuals dealing with people who are under pressure and experiencing problems. This can lead to emotional overload, both in new therapists, who are working out their own ways of dealing with this emotional onslaught, and for seasoned therapists, who have spent prolonged periods dealing with people in a highly emotional state.

It is therefore good practice to take steps to protect yourself from the emotional strain associated with the profession and thus avoid burn out.

Firstly, get support from your friends and family, and also in the form of a good professional network with which to consult.

Secondly, always keep developing as a therapist, learn new techniques, keep up to date with current thinking and find ways to keep your work interesting so that you continue to be engaged with the clients and do not depersonalize them, or yourself.

Finally, try to get some balance between your work life and home life.

Therapists Have Lives, Too

All therapists experience things in life that affect their ability to practice.

No one can avoid death, accidents, poor health and relationship problems. It is therefore important to be able to talk to colleagues or fellow professionals when these things happen and ask for help if necessary.

Good therapists recognize when they need to seek help and have regular access to a therapist of their own. If you have a good life balance in general, and are involved in fulfilling activities outside of work, it can help when things get tough.

Finding ways to relax through activities such as yoga or tai chi, taking part in sport or art activities or simply reading a good book or taking a long bath, will offset the emotional demands of work and your personal life. Striving to achieve a good balance in life and learning from your own life experiences is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your clients.

This article was originally published on October 22, 2012.

Wendy M. O'Connor, PsyD, LMFT
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