Nurses, medical doctors, and mental health therapists are tired! So tired, in fact, many are leaving the healthcare industry in droves. Nationwide nurse shortage. Doctors over worked. Don’t get me started on where therapists fall in all of this. Actually, yes! Let’s get started in discussing the massive burnout therapists are feeling almost 3 years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and all the other chaos and uncertainty we’ve endured as a profession, and as a people.

Even though the NASW updated the social work Code of Ethical Principles and Standards in 2021 that now “includes language that addresses the importance of self-care,” (Information found on NASW website on 12/15/21 at many therapists are finding the demand for mental healthcare, and their own big hearts for helping, are preventing them from really engaging in beneficial self-care.

However, fellow therapists, we cannot ignore this very important principle. What is it that you need? Do you need to work less hours? Do you need to take a vacation? Do you need to a sabbatical? Whatever you need, you NEED to do.

We all need to get some REAL rest and downtime (if we’re going to make it in this profession).

  • Pull back from seeing so many clients one on one each week. Think about offering a support group and make that hour more valuable to you.
  • Hire an administrative assistant. Even a virtual one could lift some of the tasks off of you, and you can work less or focus more on the work you want to do.
  • Automate some, if not all, of your systems. Have registration or interest forms available to fill out online via your website or some other online platform. Find ways that clients can pay directly online, rather than go through contacting you first. Can you find ways to automate insurance billing too?
  • Make time for a colleague consult group that benefits you. We need time with other professionals, to vent, to discuss difficult cases, to get ideas, to ask for resources, to feel seen and supported.
  • Plan (or attend) a retreat. This could be a friend getaway. Or traveling out of state for a training you’ve wanted to do and spend an extra day there. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or some other spiritual escape. Key here is that the time away is restorative.

If you truly need extended time away from client work-a true sabbatical- make a plan, get prepared, and do it! We have a very important job of keeping the fabric of the minds and deep emotions of people in tact so they can hopefully function in the ways they need; however, our job, our work, is not more important than our health, our families, our own minds and emotions remaining in tact so we can function in all the ways we need.

I know you’re doing great things. I know you’re helping people heal, grow, learn and become better versions of themselves. I know you’re the one who’s keeping someone alive and moving forward right now. And I want you to know, there’s only one you, there’s only this one life, and we only get one chance at it. Do the great work you need to do for yourself, and that great work might be difficult, like learning to take a step back or increase boundaries with client work. But do it! Do it so you don’t fall subject to permanent burn out, and so you can keep showing up and doing the remarkable and understated and underappreciated work for humankind. I see you, mental health therapists, I see all of you, and I encourage you to take the principle seriously and engage in beneficial self-care.

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About the Author: Sarah O'Brien
Sarah O'Brien is a psychotherapist, LCSW, licensed in 2 states; Virginia and Maryland. She holds certifications for clinical anxiety treatment (CCATP) and telemental health treatment (CTMH). She specializes in Anxiety Disorders, Substance Use Disorders and non-using Partner/Spouse, PTSD/Relational Trauma, relationship issues and developing healthy friendships and relationships. Her practice is mostly virtual and she sees clients college-age and up.

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