Self-care tips for psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors

Most occupations bring demands, and psychotherapy and counselling are no exception. Providing support to others who are undergoing emotional distress can have its toll on a professional’s mental health if not enough care is taken, whether you’re an established practitioner or a trainee coming to grips with the first sessions with clients.

We invited some of our psychotherapists to reflect on their self-care routine and offer tips to fellow psychological professionals looking to prioritise their mental wellbeing.

 

Noel Bell, UKCP psychotherapist

Noel Bell, UKCP psychotherapist

  • We need to be reminded that good emotional and mental health is predicated on good physical health. A positive self-care regime should include getting sufficient levels of sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and doing high impact physical exercise. It is hard to be mentally efficient and emotionally resourceful over the long term without these foundations in place. Good sleep, a healthy diet and an exercise regime will also boost your immune system in order to stay well.
  • Start your day with a brisk walk outdoors. A by-product of the pandemic has been greater amounts of time working from home. This has produced many benefits. However, your daily routine should involve adequate exposure to daylight. Whilst working indoors, with restricted light, there will be less opportunities for your internal body clocks to fully wake up. Artificial light is not an appropriate substitute for getting the right amount of daylight. Daylight, and lots of it, is an absolute must as a cue for resetting your circadian rhythm so that you can be most effective in your work.
  • The risks of professional isolation for therapists are more real in a post pandemic world when there might be a reduced externally focused routine. There might be less opportunities for the incidental social chats with colleagues when working at a therapy centre. Boosting your professional social support structure, by joining new peer support/supervision events, will help to guard against such isolation.
  • A ritual after each session, no matter how short, can help to shift energy and can be very rewarding and restorative. Therapists have a mode of work that involves mainly sitting down, and often in a passive position, and it is vital that a change of scenery is somehow found during the course of a working day. Unhealthy lifestyle behaviours can quickly take hold without such shifts in movement.
  • Have fun. There needs to be time in your day/week when you are not thinking about patient material. Find the time to do something new and let your hair down. Your working brain will be better for it.

 

Marybeth Haas, UKCP psychotherapist

Marybeth Haas, UKCP psychotherapist

  • Prioritise time for self-care even when you feel like you don’t ‘have enough time’ because it will reduce stress and serve all those you support as much as it serves your own wellbeing.
  • Be as kind and patient with yourself as you are with your clients.
  • Ask for help when you need it, from friends, family, colleagues or other professionals.
  • Say no when you know you’ve already got too much going on.
  • Take good care of your body with healthy unprocessed foods, regular movement, plenty of sleep, daylight and grounding. Your body and mind cannot be separate.
  • Follow your interests by learning about something new and perhaps discover a new passion.
  • Recognise when your own shame and trauma is being triggered by your work or events in the wider world and find ways to take care of those parts of yourself.
  • Nourish your soul or whatever you call the deepest part of you: express your creativity, play, connect with nature.
  • Notice the impact of what you take into your system from the media and networking systems that you engage with. If these things trigger anxiety, stress, fear or overwhelm then expose yourself to less of it or switch it off altogether. Notice the difference it makes!
  • Keep your capacity to question everything and develop trust in your intuition by following it even when it might seem to go against external expectations or demands.

 

Brian Shand, UKCP psychotherapist

Brian Shand, UKCP psychotherapist

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Have sufficient holidays.
  • Get regular supervision with someone whose judgement you trust. Nobody has so much experience that they don’t need another set of eyes on their work.
  • A genuine theoretical and philosophical interest in psychotherapy helps create a balance between our human involvement with patients and the degree of detachment which is so important for their progress and our clear-thinking and sanity.
  • Have other interests outside of therapy. As Winston Churchill said, if you want to really switch off, don’t do things that will merely relax you. Do things that will relax you and engage you so much that you’ll forget work.
  • Remember the basic fact that a lot of the aggression coming your way from patients is not personal even though it will feel like it. So simple to believe, yet so easy to forget.
  • Being in healthy and happy relationships makes a big difference.
  • Be willing to have a spell of personal therapy if needed.
  • Try not to worry too much. If things don’t go so well in a session, there’s usually a chance to re-visit things next time.

 

If you have any self-care tips you'd like to share, let us know.

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