The therapy profession is emotionally and mentally demanding. It’s so demanding that I wrote an entire essay on it: Life is Not the Same as a Therapist.
Not only is the work tough, the structural and cultural norms of the mental health field make life as a therapist exceptionally demanding, such as high caseloads. Requiring clinicians to see more than 6 hours of clients/day for 5 days a week is simply too much. This is something I write about at great length in other essays, such as What is Success When You’re a Therapist, Stepping out of Martyrdom Mentality, and Escaping the Invisible Therapist Myth.
Even if a therapist has a light caseload though, there are still emotional and mental demands that are part of the profession: the emotional weight of listening to charged stories and trauma, the mental fortitude required to remain fully present, and the energy required to remain grounded, connected to our intuition, and observant of the client.
So what can be doing as therapists to take care of ourselves?
There are four ways that we can do this throughout our work week: download, distance, replenishment, and nourishment.
As soon as possible after a therapy session, we can write our notes. This contains our thoughts so that they are not rambling around in our heads.
We can then decide if further emotional downloading is needed. This can be in the form of journaling about what came up, physically moving our bodies, or creating art about the session.
Within art therapy, there is a practice known as response art. We make a piece of art in response to a session we had. It is a form of containment and giving our emotions a home.
We need to have firm boundaries with our work life so that we can get mental and emotional distance. This means not checking voicemails or email after a certain hour. I once checked my email at 9pm and saw an upsetting email from a client. I then had trouble sleeping because I kept thinking about how I might handle the situation.
Distance also means that we engage in relationships and hobbies that provide space from our work. This can look like family dinners, going on a walk with the dog, or sitting down to work on a puzzle.
Some days are harder than others as a therapist. For those days that are extra hard, we need to look at how we can replenish our low emotional and mental reserves. Replenishment activities are ones that bring us back to a neutral or grounded place.
The difference between “distancing” and “replenishment” is that replenishment activities solely pour energy into us. For many therapists, this means that no other person is present so that we do not have to modulate ourselves in any capacity and nothing is required of us (such as being present with our family or kids).
Some examples include time in nature or other experiences of awe. Despite my dislike of tying self-care to baths, I do find that a quiet bath helps me to return to a neutral place. I also like doing puzzles, Sudoku, cooking, and other activities.
Thus far, all activities mentioned are in response to the demands of a past therapy session. Nourishment involves activities that prepare us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually for the therapeutic work ahead.
These are activities that make you feel energized and ready to meet the demands of the work. This is different for every person. For me, I love reading psychology books. They inspire me and get me excited for working with my clients. I also journal and write essays (like this one) and that puts me in the right mindset for seeing clients.
Other people find nourishment in vigorous morning exercise, podcasts, mastermind groups, and other activities.
The demands of our profession will eb and flow, and with self practices in place, we can ensure that we are taken care of so that we remain happy humans who also provide valuable work to our community.
Thank you for reading. If you are a therapist who wants assistance
creating a private practice that honors you needs,
I provide consultation for just that.