How to look after yourself as a therapist or applied psychologist.

I responded to a query from a fellow therapist on Facebook yesterday. Not someone I know but someone who sounded like they were experiencing burnout, was taking some time off, planned to focus on self-care and was interested in what other therapists in the group did for their own self-care.

My initial thoughts were:

– It sounds like they’ve had a really tough six months and have been working so hard

– I’m pleased they are taking some time off

– A period of restorative self care sounds like it is definitely needed here but what is going to happen to this person when they go back to work after their time off? Will they continue the cycle? What will that do to their health and wellbeing in the long term?

This Facebook group we are both in is for a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). One of the beauties of this treatment is that it is transdiagnostic, so can be applied to human beings irrespective of their diagnoses or circumstances. Yes, skill and sensitivity are required to apply it appropriately for each individual but it aims to promote wellbeing and self compassion, not “fix” problems or directly try to reduce challenging symptoms. It is about living the best life we can, in line with our own values, given the circumstances we are in. Very much my philosophy, and that is why I apply the framework to my own life. My view is that self-care is so much more than relaxation and restoration; it can be challenging, feel uncomfortable and not always be immediately well-received by people who know you.

My response to this individual was:

I make small, realistic changes and regularly evaluate my lifestyle to see if it is sustainable for me, and this involves saying no to things that are too much for me. No way I could cope with a 50 hour work week, for example. I would also argue that living your life in line with your own values in a balanced way and being self compassionate are what self-care is for. So the more you live ACT (and CFT for me – that’s compassion focused therapy, which I will write about another day) as something for humans and not just learn it as something to apply to others, the better that is likely to be for your wellbeing and your stance as an ACT therapist.

So there you have it, my fellow therapists. Regardless of your therapeutic approach, I think you know what to do a lot of the time, and you know what you would do to support someone else in the same situation, so start treating yourself with the same compassion and use the best tools that you have. And if you’re not sure where to start, I would recommend you take your lunch break and only work your contracted hours, with very few exceptions. As strange as this may sound, I feel this can be especially powerful if no-one else around you takes their lunch break as you can then model this behaviour to your team and indirectly support their self-care.

Are you a therapist who struggles to take your own advice? If so, you may wish to consider my online yin yoga classes which focus on developing a realistic self-care practice.

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