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How Can Therapists Avoid Burnout and Maintain Their Well-being?

Many therapists enter the field to help others, and typically have an innate ability to be empathic and caring towards others. While this trait is essential for the job, it can detract from a therapist’s ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  Burnout is a common condition which affects many therapists and can create long-term negative effects. Without proper management, burnout can lead to fatigue, resentment of many aspects of the job, hopelessness, tension in the body, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization. 

What causes Burnout among therapists?

There are many factors that influence a therapist’s experience within their career. Caseload often has a major role in a therapist’s risk of burnout. Therapists who have a large caseload often struggle with time management and can find themselves becoming detached from their clients and their career. Countertransference reactions are also major risk factors to clinician burnout. This can often lead to emotional exhaustion and possible retraumatization. It is important for clinicians to take time for self-reflection and self-care to process these moments of countertransference. In addition, emotional exhaustion and distress can create inflexibility in a clinician, which can ultimately affect the client/therapist relationship. These symptoms of burnout and distress within the workplace often lead to low performance, and in extreme cases even resignation from the profession. 


The link between self-efficacy and burnout:

There have been several research findings that have indicated a strong link between self-efficacy and burnout amongst mental health clinicians. Self-efficacy is defined as one’s belief in their abilities and performance. Many therapists experience what is called “imposter syndrome”, where they feel as if they are not qualified or skilful enough to successfully provide services to their clients. This can create a low sense of self-efficacy and create doubt in their training and knowledge.

Compassion Fatigue:

Working with trauma, grief, abuse, suicidality, and other mental health issues can be taxing to anyone. Clinicians are required to do this for the majority of their day. It’s inevitable that there will be a client that a clinician feels personally invested in and struggles to detach from at the end of their work day. On a day-to-day basis, clinicians are placing themselves in their client’s shoes and mimicking their client’s feelings. While this is an essential part to the therapeutic relationship, being exposed to trauma and negative self-beliefs can start to wane on a clinicians emotional capacity, making it hard for them to care for themselves or others. Practicing leaving work at work can help strengthen the balance between a therapist’s personal life and work life. 

Prevention and Management tips:

Finding ways to prevent and or manage burnout in the clinical field is vital for a clinician's well-being. Listed below are several methods and resources a clinician can utilize to prevent  and manage burnout. 

  • Manage or reduce workload:

  • As difficult as it may be, we have to accept that we cannot help everyone. There is a point where we need to put ourselves first and take time for self-care and not work.

  • Remember! Quality over quantity. If we have too many clients and are experiencing burnout, we are at a higher risk of providing insufficient care to our clients. 

  • Prioritize Self-care:

  • Set self-care breaks in between sessions to allow time to recharge and reset before your next client. Examples include taking a 10 minute walk, eating a snack, taking 15 minutes to stretch, calling a friend or family member.

  • Set tangible goals for yourself throughout the week:

  • Sometimes we forget that we are only human and we try to do it all within one week. This alone can create self-doubt and potentially lead to burnout. 

  • Setting goals and subgoals throughout the week can help us stay on track without trying to reach too high. 

  • SMART Goal setting can also be a great way to organize your week and prioritize what you want to get done. 

  • Therapists need therapists too:

  • Therapists need help too and having your own clinician or personal supervisor can give you the space to safely vent and process what you experience within your career.

  • Grounding through Mindfulness:

  • Daily or even weekly mindfulness practice can help clinicians ground themselves and refocus their mindset on their values and well-being.

  • 4-7-8 breathing is a great breathing technique that helps reduce heart-rate and lower blood pressure during times of high anxiety and arousal

  • Deep breathing exercises-Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, then exhale with pressed lips for 8 seconds. 

  • Body scan: Take 10 minutes out of your day to refocus your attention on your body and observe, from head- to- toe, what sensations you're experiencing in your body and where you might need to release tension.

  • Take Mindfulness walks: Take time to walk outside and observe your environment and allow yourself to engage all senses. This can be a great technique to help you stay in the here-and-now.

  • Take time to socialize

  • Having a social life is imperative for work-life balance. 

  • Scheduling or setting aside days for friends or family in a calendar (digital or hard copy) can help hold you accountable and make it more likely that you’ll follow through. 

  • Plan vacations, and make sure to leave your work at home. 

  • Continue to develop new skills and self-educate:

  • Learning new therapeutic approaches and skills can help diversify your skillset, increase self-efficacy, and reduce the imposter syndrome feeling.

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