self care
For Therapists

Self-Care for Therapists

Therapists!! We are entering our busiest season. Let’s take a moment to remember the self-care we need to keep ourselves going!

As therapists we hear so often that we need to do self-care.  It comes in the same sentence as a long list of things to add to our to-do list.  From school to supervision to independent practice, self-care is a concept we know should be integrating into our daily lives. But for some reason, this seems to always get pushed off till tomorrow. 

I have spent years paying attention to self-care among my coworkers, friends, supervisees, and also my myself. I have noticed that clinicians have specific areas of self-care to focus on beyond the generic psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual self-care that everyone should be doing. Therapists have a particular type of self-care needs!

There are three main reasons that therapists need to give special attention to self-care. 

1. Clinicians spend their day providing support, guidance, validation, and safe space to others.

Oftentimes this happens no breaks throughout the day. The day is full of giving to clients from one’s emotional bank. It is crucial that clinicians spend time receiving the same supports in order to not burn-out. There needs to be a conscious decision to find things that replenish you in order for you to continue working at your best level and still be able to have energy for a life outside of work.  

2. Therapists are required to be able to regulate their own emotions while hearing a variety of struggles and emotions from their clients. 

In order to provide a safe space that is therapeutic for your clients, you as a therapist have to be able to connect emotionally with your clients. To do this, you have to keep your own emotions regulated. The ability to regulate your emotions significantly improves when you provide yourself with the emotional self-care needed when you are out of the workplace.  You can’t provide good clinical care otherwise.

3. Over the course a therapists’ career, we will hear a variety of difficult and emotionally taxing situations. 

you can't pour from an empty cup- a quote about self-care

Sitting with clients while they process these traumas can be draining and creates secondary trauma for therapists.  It is important that the clinicians take the time to process their own reactions to the traumas they have experienced in their workplace and with clients. Clinicians often feel that they need to put all their energy into supporting clients and even coworkers over their own reaction to what they witnessed or heard.  It is crucial for clinicians to be able to take the time for themselves so that the emotions do not build up and change your perspectives over time outside and inside of the workplace.

Self-care for therapists should include the four common categories (psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual). But there are some subcategories that therapists should spend extra time with.  

Mental Health as a Therapist

It might seem obvious that clinicians need to focus on their mental health. But surprisingly (or maybe not) therapists can often overlook. Therapist try to support everyone else’s mental health in their life, both professionally and personally.  Finding a therapist for yourself is crucial in your ability to process both your work and life stressors and emotions. 

This can help deal with the secondary trauma, as well as the general wear and tear of this career.  Setting aside time for therapy allows you to work effectively as well as the length your career.  If therapy is not for you, look at ways to process your emotions in a healthy way such as journaling, meditation, or support groups.  

Time Management

When thinking of self-care we often think about doing something after work.  I would like to challenge you that sometimes what we do during work can be a form of self-care.  Being able to create space for yourself throughout your work day (as simple as being able to use the restroom) is highly connected to how you feel. Create space for you to breathe, ground yourself, change your environment, and take care of your body. This will improve not only how you feel that day but also the cumulative impact of taking care of yourself. Scheduling is a super important part of time management.  Scheduling time for you to do important things (ie: your own therapy, eating, case notes, mindfulness, etc.) can decrease the likelihood of pushing it off.  

When a Therapists Gets to Eat

One of the most common complaints is that clinicians do not have time for lunch.  From personal experience, I can tell you it not only leaves you drained in the afternoon it can also cause health issues. We often feel that something else is more important or we can squeeze in one more thing instead of eating.  Being able to plan for or advocate for you needs by taking a few minutes to eat has short and long term benefits. Give yourself enough nutrients and having equally timed food intake to show up with your best self to the client in front of you.

Exercise for Therapists

Self-care and exercise have always been connected. For therapists, sometimes that means just being able to get out of your chair. Or do stretches throughout the day to let out the tension. This can be extremely helpful. Exercising per your doctors recommendation is important. Remember that sometimes just moving your body in a mindful way can help how you feel during your work day.  It doesn’t always need to be an hour activity to get some benefits from it.  

Hobbies Are Self Care

Long hours and being overworked will lead clinicians to not have much that they do outside of work. This means a lopsided life where everything is focused on work, and outside of work you are just preparing to go back to work.  Finding things that you enjoy that are unrelated to work can help you feel more balanced. Not only is it an outlet for you, but also can give you things to look forward to when you are feeling overwhelmed at work.  

When Therapists can take Time Off

Taking time off is almost a taboo topic for some clinicians.  A lot of work place cultures make you feel like taking time off is a selfish thing. Or would result in not being a team player and others having to pick up your “slack.”  This is a seriously misconstrued concept.  If time off were built into our schedules and was not just normalized but expected, our career would see significantly less burn out!

It is important that you take time to do things other than work. Give yourself space from the daily stressors that come from being a therapist. Scheduling vacation time can help us look forward to things and to not feel as if we are in a never ending cycle of work and exhaustion. Make sure you are working in a setting that values and encourages this.

Self-Care is essential to being a GOOD therapist.  Clinicians need to be able to recharge and have a balanced life to provide the best support to their clients.  Taking the time to focus on yourself and what you need in order to be effective will not only help your career but more importantly will help you have a more balanced and fruitful life.  Taking time both inside and outside of the work environment to ensure you are taking care of yourself is a long term investment that will pay off. 

Please take some time and create a self-care plan for yourself. Talk it over with your supervisor or close coworker.  Use accountability to help you follow through on providing yourself the support you need.

About The Author

Annie Bertran, therapists and supervisor for therapists, in an orange top sitting outside

Annie Bertran, LCSW-C is a licensed certified social worker-clinical and Therapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center in Rockville, MD. Annie obtained Bachelor’s degree in Social Work with a minor in Psychology from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She then went on to earn her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Annie has extensive training in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). She has worked across several settings over the past decade and has extensive experience with adolescents and young people transitioning into adulthood. She also provides clinical supervision for LMSWs and LGPCs.

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