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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Stepping Out of Martyred Therapist Mentality

I want therapists to flourish.The work we do is invaluable and life-changing.

At the beginning of this year, I wrote out a list of my hopes for art therapists. My hopes can be summarized as wanting therapists to be emotionally, mentally, and financially nourished so they can enjoy their lives and provide their impactul work.

However, the therapy field is rife with burnout.

I’ve been examining the systemic issues and cultural norms within the field that contribute to burnout, such as a Fault-Proof Mentality and the Invisible Therapist Myth.

I think the biggest contributor to therapist burnout is something that many therapists enter the field with: A Martyrdom Mentality.

As a helping profession, therapy attracts individuals who want to “serve” and “help” others. It draws in people who often place others before themselves and sacrifice their own needs.

The values of “helping” and “meeting others needs” are reinforced and glorified within graduate school and internships.

Mixed media collage to depict being "Done Sacrificing." It has two large quotes, a picture of a person in stone, and the words written "I'm Dong Sacrificing." Mixed media collage was created by art therapist Jackie Schuld.
"Done Sacrificing" Mixed Media Collage by Jackie Schuld

Most internships are unpaid - we give our free labor so others can benefit (not to mention that it creates a culture of excessive debt or reliance on privilege). It implicitly teaches that we must sacrifice our own well-being for the long-term gains (such as our degree and the “experience” of providing therapy).

Once therapists graduate, they are offered therapy positions that are underpaid and overworked.

The mental health field relies on the martyrdom mentality. This mentality says we must sacrifice our own well-being for the sake of others.

It’s sneaky because our culture promises we’ll feel better about ourselves for “being good” and “helping others,” but therapists often end up feeling burnt out and resentful.

Martyrdom mentalities can also sneak their way into private practice.

When I started my private practice, I held unexamined beliefs directly tied to a martyrdom mentality, such as:

  • Everyone deserves access to my therapy

  • I must be financially accessible to everyone

  • I'm not really helping unless I'm helping those in financial need

  • Helping others is more important that helping myself

  • "Being ethical" means to put others before myself

These were hard beliefs for me to examine.

But the reality is we cannot serve everyone. We have a limited amount of time and can only provide therapy to a finite group of people.

Furthermore, it is impossible to run a private practice and be financially accessible to everyone. I cannot solve systemic problems (like our lacking health care system) with individual sacrifices (such as providing free therapy to every single client - I would then have no income).

To step out of a martyrdom mentality, we can stop tying our self-worth or identity to “doing or being good.”

We can practice what we teach our clients - to honor our own feelings and needs.

When we ensure our own emotional, mental, and financial needs are met, we flourish as humans. We also become more powerful, impactful therapists.


If you'd like help stepping out of martyrdom mentality,

I provide consultation for therapists who want to honor their own needs.


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