You take good care of you clients but are you taking good care of you? Being a therapist in private practice is incredibly fulfilling and very emotionally draining. While it's an honor to be trusted with client's deepest fears, pain, and vulnerabilities, it can take an emotional toll. Therapists seem to be particularly vulnerable to putting our own needs on the back burner to attend to others. It's why we're good at what we do. It's also why prioritizing self-care is crucial to professional and personal success, and to avoiding burnout.
At work and at home (I'm a wife and mother of 4 children) I emotionally and physically nurture others, so I've had to work hard to figure out what I need and how to prioritize self-care. Here are some ways that I've learned to take good care of myself as a private practitioner.
1) Start and end sessions on time
Build in 10-15 minutes in between clients to take a bathroom break, do some deep breathing, have a snack, clear your head, or consult with another therapist. Don't give away your time to clients at your own expense or you'll end up resenting them because your needs aren't being met.
2) Remember to eat and drink
This sounds so basic, but I've had times when hours would go by before I realized that I was parched and famished! I used to book 8-10 clients a day without scheduling a break assuming that someone would cancel or no-show. On the days where no one did I'd work straight through. Exhausted and starving I usually grabbed junk food and a sip of water. I've learned to build in time to eat and drink so I can maintain my energy level.
3) Schedule transition time after work
Take a few minutes to clear your head so you don't bring the emotions of work into your personal time. If you have a commute you may want to listen to relaxing music on your drive home. There was a period of time where I'd work out at the end of my work day to help release the stress of the work day before heading home and that worked well. Take a few minutes to "shift gears" after work.
4) Get consultation and supervision
It's crucial to build in support for your emotional and professional needs in order to prevent burnout. Meet with colleagues to process countertransference and consult on difficult cases so you don't internalize your client's issues. This is particularly important for solo private practitioners to prevent isolation.
5) Solve recurring complaints quickly
If you have chronic complaints about your practice, act quickly to resolve them. If you hate your office space, start looking for a new one. If you are overwhelmed by paperwork, reports, and managed care authorizations, consider hiring office help. Take action when something is bothering you so it doesn't drain your emotional energy.
One of the benefits of being in private practice is that you are in charge of your own schedule. Be sure to build your self-care into your schedule. We are modeling self-care for our clients so let's make sure we're practicing what we preach.
What do you do to "fill your own bucket" during your work day so you can continue to feel energized, to be effective with clients, to manage your practice, and maintain a personal life? I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions. Feel free to comment below.