Self-care is crucial for maintaining a healthy well-being. As therapists, holding boundaries with clients and coworkers is necessary when making self-care a priority. As our job aims to guide others to find their strengths to navigate their stressors, it can often be difficult to be firm in our work boundaries when a client is stressed and we want to help accommodate their needs. Given the emotional strains in the profession, it is necessary to understand our limits as therapists and know when to say “no.” An example of knowing your limits might be knowing your max number of clients that you can see in a day without getting emotionally depleted. It is important to be mindful of your limits and how to balance your work and your home life. Of course, this is true for everyone, therapist or not, but I note this because it is often difficult to work late into the evenings, then come home and try to be relaxed, enthusiastic, and happy around a partner or roommate. Sometimes our profession makes it easy to bring our work home with us- that is where self-care comes in!
Be mindful of your own experience. It is important to notice what is going on for you and not to compare yourself to your colleagues. Every clinician has a different limit to how many clients he/she/they can see in a day, and what type of presenting problems might call for more me time in between sessions than others. Understanding your limits and the impact it has on your emotional battery is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance in this career. If you do not manage your self-care, and frequently come into work rattled, stressed, and/or exhausted, how can you be in the clear headspace to be there for a client to the best of your therapeutic abilities?
Therapeutic burnout is a real thing! You have devoted so much time, energy, and resources into this career that ignoring your low battery and thinking you can persevere does not does help you but hurts you and your career even more. As a therapist, feeling distressed is common. You might feel distressed about insurance paperwork, getting home past 9 pm every night and missing your kid’s bedtime, or distressed over trauma’s you heard from a client that morning. Distress is a normal part of daily life and its important we can differentiate this sense of distress from feeling burnout.
Freudenberger (1975) first identified therapeutic burnout and classified it in three components: emotional exhaustion; depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment. It is important to notice that these symptoms can range day-to-day, and cannot be directly comparable to your friend at work. It is essential to be mindful of your own experience, how work is impacting your life, and if feelings of burnout are becoming increasingly more common in your workweek. When signs of burnout develop, it becomes ever more important to take a step back, assess your needs, and take time for yourself. If Self-care is not part of your regimented week, make it more of a priority. When levels of burnout are higher today than they were yesterday, take 60-75 minutes for self-care rather than yesterday’s 25. When you participate in self-care time, you are helping yourself, which in turn help’s your clients. Reflect on your limits, identify what you need, and take the time.