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Self-Care for Clinicians prioritizing your own well-being

As a mental health professional, you know the value of self-care. You teach the benefits to every client who walks through your door, and you really believe in them. Yet you struggle to follow through with your own self-care.

You do what you can: the occasional massage, a walk at lunch, and a fancy latte on Fridays.

These small gestures of self-care are nice, but they do little to help with the underlying stress of your job. That’s because self-care is not a single act—it’s a practice that requires you to continuously prioritize your own well-being, even when it’s difficult to do so.

For a clinician, self-care might look like…

  • Setting boundaries
  • Doing more of what you love
  • Finding meaning outside of work
  • Examining unhelpful beliefs
  • Seeking clinical supervision

Set boundaries

Self-advocacy is an important first step in self-care. As a clinician, this means protecting your time, energy, and caseload. If you work in an agency, there will be limits to what you can change, but don’t assume that everything is set in stone. It’s important to advocate for your needs and explore where adjustments can be made.

  • Try it out:
  • Reflect on the biggest challenges in your workday. Is it one or two clients? A certain diagnosis that you feel ill-equipped to treat? Maybe it’s simply too large a caseload. After reflecting on what you need, ask your supervisor assertively but tactfully if a change can be made that will help you serve your clients more effectively. It’s helpful to prepare some solutions ahead of time.
  • Commit to ending sessions on time. Be conscientious of pacing your sessions so the heaviest moments occur toward the middle of the hour, leaving plenty of time for your client to explore and regain composure before it’s time to leave. The wrap-up process should begin before it’s time for the session to end.
  • Don’t check work emails during off-hours. Clients should be clearly informed of your communication boundaries during the intake process, including information about who they should contact during an emergency and how they should schedule or cancel appointments. If you find it challenging to ignore work emails after-hours, set your phone to show email notifications only at certain times.
  • Give yourself permission to free your mind of work in your off-hours. Before the end of the day, write down tomorrow’s tasks, then leave them until tomorrow. Say to yourself, “I’m done for the day.”
  • If you're a supervisor:
  • Check in regularly with your clinicians regarding their caseloads and ask what support they need.
  • Be mindful of clinicians’ limited breaks and help them protect their lunch and administrative hours.
  • Have systems in place to handle after-hours communications with clients.

Do more of what you love

Self-care isn’t just about working less - it can also mean leaning into the type of work you most enjoy. You might find certain client issues more draining, while others energize you. Research shows that identifying and using your strengths tends to decrease stress (Wood et al., 2011).

Even if major changes to your job aren’t possible, you might still have leeway to make your strengths a bigger part of your work. Working the same number of hours but with a population you love can make all the difference.

  • Try it out:
  • Identify your strengths. Ask yourself: What aspects of your work have been most rewarding? What makes you feel most energized? Share your strengths and interests with your supervisor to help them understand how you thrive with certain populations.
  • Lean into your niche. If you’re in private practice, don’t feel like you have to market to every issue and demographic – instead, focus your energy on your strengths. Being upfront about your focus may actually help you bring in more clients.
  • If you're a supervisor:
  • Discuss the type of work that most energizes your clinicians and consider adjusting their jobs accordingly.

Find meaning outside of work

Clinicians tend to give so much to their work, there’s little energy left at the end of the day for themselves. Naturally, a work-life balance will require you to cultivate a life you love outside of the office.

  • Try it out:
  • Cultivate interests that help you feel energized. It’s tempting to just zone out after work. This is okay sometimes, but won’t offer long-term benefits. Instead, know that you often have to spend energy to get energy.
  • Find social activities that help you relax. For some, this means spending time with friends. Just be careful not to let work talk dominate your conversations.
  • Know when you would benefit from time alone. This, too, is a valid way to spend your time.
  • If you're a supervisor:
  • Advocate for your clinicians to receive frequent paid time off... and encourage them to actually use it.
  • Be open to flexible scheduling that suits each of your clinicians.

Examine your beliefs about being a therapist

The beliefs you bring to therapy hugely shape your experience. Negative or unrealistic thoughts can make any experience feel unmanageable.

Be on the lookout for beliefs that create unneeded stress:

Unhealthy beliefs Helpful modifications
I have to save my clients. I can provide a supportive relationship for my clients.
I’m a failure if my clients don't do well. I’m successful if I form a meaningful connection with my clients.
I have to be there for my clients at all times. I will be present for my clients when we’re together, but not at all hours of the day.
Exhaustion is a sign of hard work, and I should be proud of feeling this way. Exhaustion means that I need to set better boundaries.

When you catch yourself ruminating on unhelpful thoughts, take a step back and reflect on how just being there can mean the world to someone. Recognize that your role may be helping your clients feel safe, heard, and understood, often in ways they have not experienced before. This alone can be very healing.

  • Try it out:
  • Reflect on whether you carry any unrealistic beliefs about your role as a therapist. For example, look out for cognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking (e.g., "If I can’t help everyone, I’m useless”) or disqualifying the positive (e.g., ignoring all the good work you do by focusing on the one client who asked for a new therapist).
  • Talk to therapists who have worked in the field for many years. They will often have a more balanced perspective. Ask them what they wish they would have known early in their careers.
  • If you're a supervisor:
  • Be conscientious when clinicians seem to be struggling. Consider interventions such as increased supervision or a referral to personal therapy.
  • Support clinicians in taking work time to meet with their own therapist.

Seek clinical supervision

While practicing therapy can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be exhausting and lonely. Working day in and day out with difficult issues and traumas can take a huge emotional toll. Confidentiality constraints mean you can’t discuss work with friends or family.

Clinical supervision isn’t just for interns. Therapists at any stage of their career can benefit from a second perspective and support. Talking with a clinical supervisor or peer support group can help you process struggles that arise from your work with clients.

  • Try it out:
  • Seek supervision or a peer support group. Even seasoned therapists can benefit from new perspectives and the added support.
  • Pursue further training. Identify where you struggle, then search for classes and trainings to build your confidence.
  • If you're a supervisor:
  • Provide supervision even after it’s no longer required.
  • Encourage your clinicians to attend trainings for new topics. This acts as a break from the day-to-day and a way to build competency in new areas.

Being a therapist is tough, but work-life balance is possible. Many people get into the field to help others, and helping yourself is an important part of that goal. Keep in mind that self-care is about continuously prioritizing your own well-being, even when it’s hard.


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