SELF-CARE FOR THERAPISTS
I know. You see and hear it everywhere. Often, from yourself. You know you should be taking care of yourself. And you are likely tempted to scroll on over to the next topic. You roll your eyes. Of course you desire more time for self-care. You literally cannot find another minute in your day. You are thinking that I know nothing of your heavy caseload, how you are taking care of your aging mother-in-law, and how you need to pick the kids up from school in ten minutes. You simply do not have the time. My goodness, you are lucky if you get a bathroom break.
I get it. I have been there, and will likely be there again. Slipping out of self-care is so easy and can feel like you are standing in quicksand. Before long, new “dis-ease” ridden habits become second-nature and burnout is near. However, stable ground is possible. Noticing the quicksand and the desire to move to higher ground comes first. Pause. Take a breath. Have compassion for yourself.
The time comes when we as therapists have to take a good, hard look at what we advise our clients and what makes us the exception. We encourage our clients to make time to care for the most important investment of their lives; themselves. We often do this while leaving the therapy room to totally abandon our own needs. We do not listen to our bodies telling us to rest, to take actual vacations from the therapy room. We refuse to attend to our spiritual needs because we “don’t have time” due to the house needing cleaning or we feel defeated and exhausted before religious service on Friday night. We neglect friends and connection. We neglect ourselves.
We love our clients and this profession. As therapists, we are forever grateful for this work. It is an honor witnessing lives changing for the better as we hold the lamppost alongside our client and their most important journey. Our clients rely on us for the space we hold, the expertise we offer, and the emotional regulation we model.
However, we too are human beings! Therapists are superheroes in the therapy room when we acknowledge our own humanity, shortcomings, needs, and boundaries. This means caring for ourselves outside the therapy room and in between sessions. This means acknowledging our susceptibility to vicarious trauma, which can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. Vicarious trauma is a real and tangible taking on of our client’s trauma stories, histories, and past experiences. That is right, we can become traumatized. Holding on to the weight of our clients’ traumas can be overwhelming and exhausting, and has the power to negatively impact the quality of therapeutic care we provide our clients (Barnett, 2014). We must take care of ourselves and be aware of signs and symptoms of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burn-out, not only for client’s and our families, but also for ourselves-we are worth it.
So, as with so much in life, we start simply. We start with basic needs. We start with water, movement, nourishing food to help us operate at our best, and adequate sleep. What is preventing you from sleeping soundly or taking care of your body so you can rest? So you can laugh and participate in joyful activities? Do you need a less demanding caseload? Perhaps it is certain case types that drain you? Does your sleep environment need a shift? Do you need an outlet during your week by talking to your own therapist or carving out time for yoga?
Self-care is a birthright of all, but it is a non-negotiable necessity as a therapist, counselor, or healer. Coming to peace with this reality will open new doors, reveal time you were not aware of, and inspire shifts to honor yourself. By honoring you, you honor your clients’ selves, too.
Our therapists are grateful for the opportunity to hold space for you- the therapist who holds space for so many. You deserve a space to process, talk, and engage in your own holistic well-being. Let us journey together as you discover how to best care for yourself.
Barnett, J. (2014, December). Distress, burnout, self-care, and the promotion of wellness for psychotherapists and trainees: Issues, implications, and recommendations. [Web article]. Retrieved from: http://www.societyforpsychotherapy.org/distress-therapist-burnout-self-care-promotion-wellness-psychotherapists-trainees-issues-implications-recommendations