According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, therapists have one of the highest burnout rates. The mental health field is emotionally taxing in the best of times, but since the COVID pandemic, more therapists are feeling the strain of constant caregiving. Consequently, it is more important than ever that therapists prioritize their own mental health. Here are some things that will help you put on your oxygen mask before helping others:
Regular self-care is the equivalent of regular maintenance for your car. If you don’t keep up with it, you are likely to break down. Self-care looks different for everyone, but it typically includes sleep, healthy eating, some form of movement, and/or relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Make sure you are taking time each day to practice some form of self-care.
Setting and maintaining boundaries with patients is also an important part of protecting your mental health. Make sure you designate separate hours for work and personal time. Try to avoid taking work home with you. It can be helpful to have an end-of-the-workday routine that signals the transition to your personal life, such as a change of clothes or a walk around the block.
A support network
Build a network of friends, families, and colleagues who can provide emotional support when needed. While you won’t be able to reveal specifics about your work with patients, you can talk about how you are feeling and ask for support in the form of encouraging words, a hug, or a pleasant distraction.
Attend a professional conference or seek out other types of training that help you to diversify your skills. Not only will this give you the opportunity to network with other mental health professionals, but many therapists find that learning new approaches and techniques helps to reenergize their work.
Supervision and peer consultation
Being a therapist can be isolating. Most of your time is spent 1:1 with patients or families. Supervision and peer consultation can help you feel more supported and connected. It can also help you process difficult cases and/or ethical concerns.
Time for reflection
Make sure you are taking time out of your day to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Are you depleted, or energized? How might you refill your cup at the end of the day? Identify your own personal mental health “red flags” and take regular inventory.
Therapists are passionate about their work and care deeply for their patients. Sometimes this can result in being hard on themselves if a session doesn’t go well. Make sure you are giving yourself the same compassion you would give your patients. Remember that your work is difficult, you are human, and you are doing your best. Try a self-compassion meditation or come up with a compassionate mantra to use when you are feeling down.
Draw a simple pie chart. How much time and energy do you spend on work versus other things? If your pie is imbalanced, chances are this is taking a toll on your mental health. Make sure you are making time for the activities you most enjoy, whether it be spending time with family, reading, or other hobbies.
Over 80 percent of therapists have had their own therapy. If therapy isn’t part of your self-care plan, maybe it should be! Therapy can help you identify your triggers and red flags, process your emotions, and relieve stress. It’s a 50-minute hour carved out of your week when you can focus on yourself. Therapy can also help to hold you accountable for making your mental health a priority.
Therapists are naturally empathic. It’s a job requirement! But all that empathy can drain therapists’ emotional reserves and lead to burnout. It’s important for therapists to take time for their own self-care, set boundaries with their patients, use their support network, and practice self-compassion. Part of therapists’ self-care plan should also be recognizing signs of burnout and reaching out for professional help, if necessary.