Avoid Therapist Burnout: 5 Strategies to Thrive
Are you feeling burnt out?
Are you wondering if you can (or should) keep pushing?
Does it seem too hard to step off the treadmill?
You’re not alone.
As therapists or mental health professionals, you face a higher risk of burnout. According to a review and meta-analysis published in 2018, the average mental health professional experienced high levels of emotional exhaustion and moderate levels of depersonalization. Then COVID struck.
A more recent survey by the American Psychological Association reported shocking therapist burnout statistics. A whopping 45% of psychologists agreed or strongly agreed that they felt burnt out.
Given that rates of mental illness continue to grow alongside burgeoning workloads for therapists, it’s essential to step back and take stock. To consider how to not only survive private practice but thrive. Your own mental health is important as mental health professionals just the same as it is for the treating clients. Mental health services can cause emotional fatigue and chronic stress for mental health providers, so there are many things to do to prevent therapist burnout.
But before we do, let’s take a refresher: What are the signs of therapist burnout?
Therapist burnout symptoms
Signs of therapist burnout can fall into three categories: behavioral, emotional, and physical.
Behavioral signs include:
- Diminished performance in daily activities
- Emotional outbursts
- Vicarious trauma
- Postponing tasks
- Social withdrawal or self-imposed isolation
- Substance use and abuse
- Negative emotions
- Feeling emotionally exhausted and physical exhaustion
Emotional signs include:
- A skeptical attitude
- A sense of detachment
- A diminished sense of fulfillment
- Feeling helpless, inadequate, or doubting oneself
- Lack of drive
- Feeling overwhelmed
Physical signs include:
- Appetite changes
- Gut problems
- Lack of drive
- Problems sleeping well
- Recurrent illness
Therapist burnout symptoms and signs can wreak havoc. With that in mind, here are our 5 top strategies to relieve pressure, restore balance, and help to reverse therapist burnout.
Fall in love with self-care
Ask yourself… Is there a sense of exhaustion when you say “yes” and a feeling of guilt when you say “no”?
Then, self-care is needed.
You no doubt talk to your clients about these approaches ad nauseam. Yet, practicing what you preach can be a challenge. There is so much to do and so many in need. While it may seem counterintuitive, that’s why self-care is vital. Improving your psychological and physical health will help you enjoy your life and take care of your clients. Setting boundaries is highly rewarding for your professional and personal lives and allows for a more balanced life and way to manage stress of therapeutic relationships.
There are many ways to incorporate self-care into your daily life. Here are some of our favs:
- Prioritize sufficient sleep
- Take regular breaks throughout your days
- Maintain a balanced and healthy diet
- Enjoy regular exercise (choose physical activities you love rather than those you don’t. They’re easier to stick to)
- Spend quality time with loved ones and by yourself
- Practice mindfulness and meditation
- Focus on slowed regular breathing and deep breathing exercises when needed
- Observe your thoughts and emotions without becoming entangled with them
- Unplug from technology: Limit screen time and disconnect from digital devices
- Spend time in nature
- Dedicate time to a favorite hobby or passion
- Set boundaries (you must learn to say a firm “no”)
- Get creative (dance, draw, paint, sing, write)
- Cultivate gratitude
- Pamper yourself (enjoy a warm, soothing bath, get regular massages, treat yourself to a relaxing weekend)
- Listen to music that lifts your spirit
- Read for pleasure rather than as professional learning
Check out 5 Ways Mental Health Professionals Can Practice Self-Care for more tips.
Reach out for peer support and professional help
Working in mental health is emotionally demanding, exposing you to your clients and your own stresses and struggles. Many of our customers have told us that someone can’t fully appreciate the emotional and mental toll caring for others takes unless they work in the health field. Your job as a mental health provider has a positive impact on other mental health providers and prospective clients.
Because of this, therapists — like you — may become vulnerable to burnout without proper support. In fact, with almost half of surveyed therapists reporting symptoms, this is a huge issue that can negatively impact personal life and professional efficacy.
A network of professional peers provides a safe space to share your experiences, challenges, and emotions.
Peer support offers understanding and empathy from people who can uniquely understand the pressures of the job. This shared camaraderie may help you feel less isolated, validate your feelings, and reduce the risk of emotional exhaustion.
Your peers can provide insights, coping strategies, fresh perspectives, and innovative approaches. They can also act as an early warning system, pointing out signs of therapist burnout before you become aware.
You may also benefit from therapy. Becoming a client, if you’re not already. As you know, there is power in the therapist-client relationship and working on and for oneself.
Cultivate a work-life balance
Do you enjoy life?
Do you prioritize time spent on your passions and with your people?
Do you have an away-from-work life?
Do you put yourself first?
Work-life balance is critical for preventing burnout and encouraging therapist burnout recovery. Fast-paced and demanding work environments are one thing. But when they bleed over into your personal life, that’s quite another. Secondary trauma is very real and can factor into experiencing burnout
A healthy balance between professional responsibilities and personal time is essential for emotional, mental, and physical health. But how can you achieve this as a therapist?
You must set clear boundaries and prioritize self-care.
Enter appointments into your calendar for your personal life, just as you would your professional life. “Read a book,” “Write in my diary,” “Do nothing,” “Spend time with my spouse and children.” Stick to them, barring an (actual) emergency. This is not a game!
Learn to effectively manage your time in therapy sessions and outside of them.
Delegate tasks (you should only perform specific tasks!)
If you have employees, communicate your needs and boundaries.
Automate your practice, use artificial intelligence, and hire a virtual assistant. Let’s look at this option in greater detail because it can be a game changer.
Automation, artificial intelligence, and virtual assistance
Have you automated all the processes that you can?
Or do you do everything by hand?
Systematizing your practice is akin to streamlining your success while reducing stress and time commitment. When done right, it removes much of the pressure. This can aid therapist burnout recovery and prevention.
How can you do this?
Initially, it takes time and some effort. But by leveraging technology, you can simplify administrative tasks, optimize client interactions, and focus more on providing quality care.
Automation: the secret to better results with less work
Automation is perfect for repetitive and time-consuming tasks like appointment scheduling, reminders, and paperwork. Not only do they remove tasks from your hands, but they also have practice and client benefits. For example, automated reminders can minimize no-shows, and boost client attendance rates and treatment consistency.
Billing can be simplified.
Email autoresponder sequences can be set up. This allows clients to be added to an email list, from which emails are automatically delivered per a set schedule.
With electronic automated data collection, you can track client progress, analyze treatment outcomes, and identify trends. The data-driven insights can inform treatment plans, improve decision-making, and ultimately improve client outcomes.
Social media and blog posts can be partly automated. Our powerful tool, Social Genie, helps you market well in a fraction of the time.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the game. If you harness its power, it can transform your practice and life!
We’ve created a therapist-specific guide called How to Use ChatGPT for Your Therapist Practice to walk you through the process — including prompts and examples from ChatGPT — to show you what’s possible and how to use this revolutionary technology.
You don’t have to do everything by yourself!
Our wonderful cyber world gives you access to quality virtual assistants (VAs) from around the globe. They can complete specific tasks, often much better than you can. For example:
- Audio and video editing
- Client support
- Content creation
- Data entry
- Data management and analytics
- Email and calendar management
- Graphic design
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Social media creation, marketing, and management
If you’re worried that a particular task might infringe on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements or your ethical obligations, ask your VA to perform tasks you’re sure about. Or, have them complete tasks from your private life. Freeing time from any (or all) part of your life will lessen stress and overwhelm.
Using technology and another set of hands can reduce your burden and minimize the risk of therapist burnout.
Evaluate and adjust your practice model and systems
Just as you regularly reassess the progress of your clients, regular assessments of your practice model and systems will help you identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. By staying adaptable and open to change, you can better meet your client’s evolving needs, enhance outcomes, increase your practice success, and avoid becoming an addition to the therapist burnout statistics.
You deserve to stay well and to thrive. Your clients, community, and loved ones deserve a healthy you too. These 5 tips will help you succeed… so long as you take action!
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