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15 Self-Care Tips for Managing Therapist Burnout

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It's no secret that working in mental health can be emotionally taxing. Therapist burnout happens when therapists persistently feel overwhelmed or stressed in their work. It can also occur when problems in one's personal life spill into their professional well-being. Burnout isn't always easy to recognize, but it can create significant distress in your life.

Common Signs of Therapist Burnout

When a mental health provider experiences burnout, they lose their spark and passion for their work. There's a sense of emotional fatigue that they carry throughout the day. Their own mental health suffers as a result, and their personal lives may become more complicated and challenging.

Some of the common signs of burnout include:

  • Persistently dreading work
  • Feeling distracted or preoccupied during therapy sessions
  • Sense of chronic emotional exhaustion
  • Difficulties empathizing with or understanding clients' needs
  • Becoming more cynical towards work
  • Self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or other compulsive behaviors
  • Feeling a sense of chronic compassion fatigue
  • Professional impairment and reduced efficacy at work
  • Sleep issues
  • Relationship problems
  • Difficulty practicing self-care activities

Burnout tends to happen gradually, and it can occur in various stages. Some therapists may only notice one or two symptoms at first. However, without intervention, burnout progressively worsens over time.

Self-Care for Mental Health Professionals: 15 Strategies to Help Prevent Therapist Burnout (Or Treat It If You're Struggling)

As a mental health clinician, you manage acute crises, take care of your client's needs, and hold intense emotions all day. You treat serious mental illness and maintain a sense of hope even when others are deeply struggling. Yet, when it comes to your own self-care practices, there's a good chance you struggle to look after yourself. You may even be neglecting your own needs or values.

If you suspect you're struggling with burnout or want to try to avoid it, here are some tips that can help:

Implement a Self-Care Routine

Self-care strategies don't need to be complicated to be effective, but now is a good time to consider what makes you feel recharged and emotionally balanced.

You can start by focusing on just one part of your day. For example, if mornings generally feel hectic, you might want to consider waking up ten minutes earlier. That way, you can linger over a cup of coffee or spend a few moments meditating.

Set Healthy Boundaries at Work and With Clients

It's important to establish reasonable boundaries in your professional life. Failing to do so may result in working long hours, taking on more tasks, or feeling resentful toward your employers, clients, or both.

For instance, you might decide that you stop checking your email after a certain time. Or, when you go on vacation, you leave your work phone at home.

Strengthen Your Professional Competence

Sometimes burnout is a response to feeling insecure or incompetent in your work. Professional development can help you feel more knowledgeable.

All licensed therapists need to maintain their clinical standing via continuing education units. But you can take it a step further by prioritizing further training or certification in areas of specialization that most resonate with you. You may find that instilling more passion helps you feel more excited about your work.

Prioritize Other Hobbies and Interests

How do you take care of yourself after work? Therapist burnout can result in feeling too exhausted to do anything but lay around or watch TV, but it's important to try to recharge your emotional batteries. Your work should not be the sole focus of your day!

Make a commitment to engage in meaningful activities that bring you joy- even if it's for just a few minutes a day. As tempting as it can be to "live for the weekend," try to infuse these moments into your everyday life.

Implement Taking Care of Your Physical Self

Your physical well-being affects your psychological wellness, and it's important to evaluate how well you're taking care of yourself if you're feeling burnt out.

Prioritize staying physically active, eating nourishing foods, and getting enough sleep. If you haven't been to the doctor recently, consider scheduling a physical exam and taking blood work. Taking care of any deficiencies can improve your mood and emotional well-being.

Practice More Self-Compassion

You may be overly hard on yourself at work, which can cause excessive stress and negative emotions. Self-compassion means practicing more self-kindness. Remember that you are a human, and you are vulnerable to emotions like everyone else.

Self-compassion also means remembering that everyone experiences distress. You are not alone in your feelings and many other therapists can relate to feeling overwhelmed or upset with their work.

Engage In More Mindfulness

Mindfulness doesn't fix the problems causing burnout, but it can reduce stress and help with many other mental health issues. Mindfulness gives you an opportunity to shift your perspective and try to focus on the present moment. This can help you manage stress and feel lighter during the day.

Consider devoting just a few minutes to meditating or grounding yourself each day. Some people also find that it's helpful to spend a few moments outside or taking a walk.

Join a Peer Consultation Group

Feeling isolated from other therapists can cause job stress and burnout. Even though therapists practice alone in treating clients, they still need group feedback, support, and relationships. If you're in private practice, this is even more important.

Consultation groups offer professional guidance and peer support. Connecting with other mental health providers also provides a sense of validation and reassurance within the work (and that ultimately makes you a more effective therapist).

Seek Different Supervision

Newer therapists need ongoing training and feedback to strengthen their therapeutic effectiveness. They rely on the supervisory relationship for their professional growth.

However, if you don't feel adequately supported by your supervisor, you may face the risk of burnout. This may be something you can work out with your supervisor directly. But if you still feel dissatisfied, you might want to consider working with someone else.

Seek Personal Therapy

Therapists can grow immensely from seeking their own personal therapy. Getting professional help can help you prevent, understand, and treat professional burnout. Secondary trauma can coincide with burnout, and that may trigger your own mental health issues.

It may be beneficial to work with a therapist who specializes in treating other therapists. They will understand the nuances of the work and aim to help you without turning your sessions into consultation or supervision meetings.

Delegate or Outsource Administrative Tasks

Better time management may help with burnout. If you have your own practice, it may be helpful to assess your administrative tasks. All these 'extras' can add extra hours to your day, and they can add more stress to your work. Is there anything you can outsource to a virtual assistant, biller, copywriter, or bookkeeper?

Match Your Work Hours With Your Energy Levels

If possible, try to plan your schedule in a way that best optimizes your energy. If you're a morning person, this means seeing clients early. If you're more of a night owl, it may mean prioritizing your most intensive tasks for the evening.

Remember to schedule breaks throughout your day. It's unrealistic to expect that you'll feel energized seeing a dozen clients back-to-back. If someone no-shows, consider using that time as a way to emotionally recharge.

Talk to HR or Your Boss

Emotional overload is real, and your burnout may be a response to having too many tasks or feeling unsupported at work. If that's the case, it's important to advocate for your own needs. Caseloads should be reasonable, and you should still have some time to recharge, learn, and connect with others.

Change Your External Environment

Some workplaces don't accommodate a therapist's well-being. Unfortunately, your boss just might not care that you're experiencing job burnout or chronic stress. These organizations often have high rates of therapist turnover, and poor treatment inevitably affects client care as well.

If nothing is improving, it may be worth considering if you need to switch jobs. You don't have to make this decision today, but staying in a hostile or toxic environment will erode your well-being.

Remind Yourself of Your Limitations

It's important to routinely ground yourself on what is and isn't in your control. As a therapist, you can't fix all the problems in the world. You can't help if a client takes care of themselves or makes progress toward their treatment goals. You can't hold yourself responsible for how other people behave.

You're responsible for your actions, boundaries, and presentation. Try to focus on what's in your control and accept what isn't.

Final Thoughts

Many mental health professionals experience some degree of professional burnout during the course of their careers. You are not alone in your struggles.

However, if left untreated, your job burnout symptoms can lead to serious impairment, depression, anxiety, and other problematic consequences. Remember that your own needs matter and that nobody works effectively when they're experiencing emotional or physical exhaustion. 

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