Why It’s Always Okay for Therapists To Take a Break

You’ve devoted your life to helping others. Yet, while your job as mental health provider can be gratifying, it can also be exhausting. If you find that listening to the stressors and traumas of client after client leaves you feeling fatigued, it might be time to take a break.   

Think about it. If you are emotionally drained, how can you help others with their problems and feelings? It’s necessary to find outlets to relieve any anxieties or emotions you absorb from your clients to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue. 

With America is in the midst of a mental health crisis, it’s essential as a therapist, counselor, or mental health clinician that you recognize any signs of stress or fatigue from your work. Your schedule may be full and your phone ringing, but it’s important to look after yourself first and foremost. So, here’s a reminder in case you need it.

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5 Signs You Need a Break Now

During your workday, you talk with your client about their mental discomforts, illnesses, and traumas and help them take steps towards overcoming these. You enjoy your job – you’re good at your job. However, you find that the job is taking a toll on her own mental wellbeing lately. You’re stressed, anxious, fatigued, have trouble concentrating during sessions, and have experienced a decline in empathy—you’re burned out. 

“Therapist burnout” is a pervasive problem for those in the mental health field. Therapist burnout can progress to a very serious syndrome known as Compassion Fatigue, which has symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), if left unaddressed.

It’s easy to acknowledge that therapist burnout is real, but you may struggle to identify when you’re feeling it. Here are five signs you might be spiralling towards burnout. 

1.You Dread Going To Work

It’s normal to have rough days at work or to feel down about your job sometimes. But if you dread going to work every day, you probably need some time off.

2.You Hope Your Client’s Cancel

If you wake up each day and secretly hope that difficult client you have scheduled for 9 a.m. cancels, you’re probably experiencing burnout.

3.You’re Annoyed with Client’s

It’s not unusual to have challenging clients. But if you find yourself getting irritated with most of your clients, you’re probably suffering from therapist burnout. 

4.You Feel Cynical About Your Work

Counselors who detach from their work are entering a danger zone rife with ethical pitfalls. If you’ve lost faith in the work that you do, it’s a major indication that you’re experiencing therapist burnout significantly.

5.You Don’t Want To Be a Therapist Anymore

After years of hard work and building your dream career, the negative impacts of your work are too much to bear. If you no longer feel a sense of passion or reward from your job, it’s probably time to reflect on why you’re so burnt out.

Impacts of COVID-19

Therapist burnout started before the pandemic. But during the pandemic, the number of people struggling with mental health issues has continued to increase and remains at rates higher than before COVID-19. In 2020, screenings for anxiety and depression rose 634% and 873%, respectively. 

As a result, demand for mental health and telemental health services has skyrocketed. You – like most mental health providers – likely took this wave of clients in need head-on, with little thought about how it would impact your own mental health. If this sounds like you, consider shifting your practice to prioritize your own wellbeing and balance your burnout level. 

Overcoming Guilt

A recent study found that 55% of therapists experience moderate to high work-related stress and burnout. So, if you recognize warning signs of compassion fatigue or burnout due to your job, you’re not alone. These feelings do not mean you are impaired or doing something wrong. Rather, they are an expected part of empathic engagement. 

In addition, many therapists feel guilty about making time for themselves. But if you’re stressed and exhausted, you’ll have less energy to give to your clients. You can only provide your clients with the best care if you’re in healthy emotional shape.

Why Therapist’s Need Breaks

Many therapists encourage their clients to slow down and engage in self-care but often fail to follow their own advice. The idea of putting your phone on airplane mode or closing your laptop might seem impossible. It’s easy to get caught up in a routine and tell yourself that you don’t have time to take a break – and this is the time when you should. Benefits of taking time for yourself include:

Increased Self Awareness 

By acknowledging your emotions and the need to prioritize yourself, you will be better placed to understand client experiences and reactions to pain and stress.

Regained Appreciation for the Therapeutic Process 

It’s difficult to appreciate the work you are doing if you are wound to a breaking point. If you take time off, you’ll be more in tune with your feelings and therefore able to engage in therapeutic strategies or techniques more effectively. 

Recharged Batteries 

Self-care will create a protective distance between you and the stress of your job.  Taking a break will give your mind time to recharge so you can give your clients the best possible care.

Refocused Perspective 

Try to treat yourself like a client. Take time to evaluate yourself and your needs. Having time to refocus will change your perspective on your work and might even make you a better therapist. 

Tips To Stay Balanced

It’s important to have a self-care plan in place to avoid becoming overwhelmed with stress and burnout. You should build a plan that focuses on your physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual needs. Try adding the following strategies to your routine to allow yourself time to heal and be well.

Physical Health

  • Get Plenty of Rest – If you are struggling to fall asleep at night, try meditating or something similar so you aren’t lying awake obsessing about your clients.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet – Avoid processed foods and consume foods that are rich in nutrients and support brain health.
  • Exercise Each Day – Exercise is a great tool to cope with stress and blow off steam after a difficult day at work. 
  • Stay Hydrated – You spend a lot of energy listening and talking to patients. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout your day.

Cognitive Health

  • Go To Therapy – Going to therapy will not only benefit your mental health, but also help you understand your clients on a deeper level. It’s important that you give yourself a separate space to discuss any stressful thoughts or behaviors brought about from your job.
  • Identify Coping Strategies – Whether its practicing mindfulness or reading a book for leisure, find a technique that gets you out of a negative headspace before it affects your mental health. 

Emotional Health

  • Practice Affirmations – Create a list of self-care affirmations you can repeat to yourself in-between sessions. Remind yourself that you are capable, strong, intelligent, and kind. 
  • Make Time for Family and Friends – Taking time to connect with loved ones is important. Make time to engage in activities that you enjoy and unwind with people who are close to you. 
  • Take a Vacation – A vacation will alleviate some of the pressures from your daily work. Allow yourself time for a vacation each year to avoid being overworked.

Spiritual Health

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal – A gratitude journal gives you the chance to note what you appreciate in your personal and professional life. When days get stressful, you can pause and thumb through your notes reminding you of all the good in your life. 
  • Spend Time Outdoors – Driving to the office, listening to clients, and keeping up with administrative duties is a lot. And it can feel like too much at times. Spending time outdoors is a key part of self-care. 

Stress and burnout can happen to anyone, even the helpers. When you allow yourself to take breaks, you’ll feel calmer, centered, and better capable of helping your clients.

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