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What About Therapists Who Need Therapy?

How do you know when compassion fatigue is setting in for you? Burnt-out is something that comes in waves, and therapists can adjust and look at taking care of themselves differently. Burnout is a problem that affects many therapists. It can be difficult to maintain professionalism and provide quality care for your clients when you are struggling with your own mental health. Not to mention, you probably got into counseling because of your empathy for people, and it can be a challenge not to let your work weigh you down. Is it time for your own personal therapy?

Therapists see a lot in a day; distress in relationships, family of origin issues, relationships ending, sometimes even the very moment a relationship ends, at that moment we see one person lose life as they know it. Therapists must be the one in the room that is completely grounded, while the clients are both reaching for help and pushing us away at the same time. That is a lot of grief and pain which is why it is essential for therapists to practice self-care, rest and get their own therapy. No one is meant to hold that alone. Especially when therapists have their own lives, children to pick up, parents that are aging, a mother-in-law that is angry with you and not to mention your partner wants to have sex, but you as can't stop thinking about a client's sexual abuse story.

As a therapist in clinical practice, you may know what signs to look for in other people regarding burnout, depression, anxiety, and other presenting problems. But it's easy to have a blind spot when it comes to identifying signs of burnout for yourself. So therapists—read on if you feel like you might be burning out with compassion fatigue. We'll identify what therapist burnout is, talk about signs of burnout, causes of burnout, and the importance of therapy for therapists.

What Is Therapist Burnout?

Like any job, therapists experience burnout. According to the Zur Institute, burnout is,

"the result of job stress stemming from the numerous emotional hazards of the profession. It affects most counselors, psychotherapists, or mental health workers at some point in their careers. It is not reserved for the seasoned-older therapists; it can strike therapists earlier in their careers as well."

Of course, the emotional hazards of being a therapist can ebb and flow with your patient load, personal experiences, and the particulars of your current cases. Like the Zur Institute pointed out, it's not just the 20-year-career therapist who experiences burnout. Even new therapists can experience burnout. In the last two-and-a-half years, with COVID, lockdowns, and global politics at a constant simmer to outright meltdown, therapists are seeing more patients than ever while dealing with many of the same concerns themselves.

How Can I Tell If I'm Experiencing Burnout?

As a therapist, you're probably well aware of the signs of burnout. Still, if you suspect you're needing a recharge and you want to affirm what you're experiencing, here are some signs that you might benefit from being a therapy client yourself:

  • Being Late: If you've always been punctual and show up prepared to work, and yet lately you've really been dragging your feet, this can be a sign of burnout. Sure, showing up late once in a blue moon happens—got stuck at a train, the dog got out—life happens. But if you're finding you're rolling in moments before your client or even after their therapy session began, this should be a red flag for you.

  • Disregarding Ethical Guidelines: As a mental health professional, there are lots of ethical guidelines you have to follow. But if you find yourself caring less and less about adhering to them, it might be a sign of burnout. Certainly an ethical guideline to keep in mind would be if you're dealing with your own depression or suicidal feelings that would keep you from being an effective therapist.

  • Disregarding Professional Boundaries: Boundaries are something that therapists have to follow. Along with ethical guidelines, if you find yourself not interested in maintaining this standard, you could be showing signs of burnout.

  • Decreased Interest in Training Techniques: Psychology is such an incredible field. There are always new methodologies and techniques to learn. Continued education and training programs abound. But, if you've been finding that you just don't care about them anymore, it could be a sign of burnout.

  • Decline in Empathy: Your empathy is one of your superpowers as a therapist. But if you notice during your therapy sessions you just aren't feeling that same level of empathy for your clients, it could be a sign of burnout. Also, if you notice you have less empathy in your personal life, that might also be a sign you need some personal therapy.

Causes of Burnout

Not every mental health professional experiences burnout for the same reasons. The therapy process weighs on different people in various ways. Here are some of the common causes of burnout.

  • Inability to Detach Self from Work: The inability to disconnect self from work may be the biggest cause of burnout for therapists or social workers. Are you thinking about your clients during the off hours? It's also one of the reasons why therapy for therapists is so effective. Sometimes you need to sit in the other chair and let someone else help you process, listen, and teach you about valuable resources.

  • Organizational Factors: Depending on where you practice therapy, there could be organizational factors that are stressful. An unhealthy work environment is sure to lead to burnout. Or on the flip side, if you are in private practice, the burdens of billing, patient notes, continuing education, bookkeeping, and more all fall on you. And these tasks could be leading to burnout more than the therapy itself.

  • Emotional Fatigue: Even as an incredible therapist, you're still a human! Emotional fatigue is real, and it's okay to seek help if you're feeling it. Your own personal issues play into your emotional exhaustion, and this is normal too. Therapy for therapists isn't required, but some people argue it should be.

The Importance of Self-Care for Burned Out Therapists

Aside from personal therapy, counselors can ease and relieve their burnout by prioritizing self-care. Make sure to take time for hobbies and recreational activities. Maintain a social life in a way that feels good to you. If you've shed habits over time that had helped you preserve boundaries, it's time to bring those habits back out or find some new ones.

Maybe there are small things you can add to your daily routine that will help you feel refreshed. Meditation, journaling, having a morning routine, and exercise are all things you could do daily or weekly to carve out some time for self-care.

Get Help with Evolve Therapy

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of burnout mentioned in this blog post, know that you are not alone. Many therapists experience these feelings at some point in their careers. However, it is important to seek help if the symptoms persist or begin to interfere with your work or personal life. At Evolve Therapy we work with a lot of therapists and we can provide you with the resources and support needed to overcome these challenges and return to feeling like your old self again. Give us a call to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists so you can return to client work feeling restored.

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