Self-Care: 7 ways to take a break as a practitioner following the effects of COVID-19
There are a number of pressures on private psychologists and therapists that come from running your own business alongside doing the work of a therapist. Lucy Gregor a self-employed brand designer explains in her interview with Bustle that "Starting your own business is like a really long stress test and, once you're in the thick of it, you can't exactly just hop off the machine because you're tired".
Lucy also explains that “anxiety associated with working as your own boss can ruin productivity, so taking the time to monitor and control this will help you recognise when its essential to take a holiday and start finding the time to care for yourself.”
If the stress of being a self-employed practitioner wasn’t enough, we are now dealing with the collateral damage and debris left after the effect of a worldwide pandemic.
This has not only impacted our business and how we operate day to day life but our internal emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing too. Post lockdown, and looking at life ahead, now seems a crucial time to take a step back, reflect, review, and consider how you are feeling, how you manage your mind, and start focusing more on the self to avoid burnout.
In her book titled ‘Maybe you should talk to someone’ Lori Gottileb states that the expectations of being a practitioner are especially difficult, confirming the idea that therapists are often focused on the needs of other people without considering the need to take care of themselves.
We might sometimes forget that we are human beings too, dealing with the same collective stress of a pandemic and it can be hard to prioritise ourselves.
What advice would you give to someone who’s experienced loss, isolation, suffering and burn out in the last year? Maybe to take some time off or find space in your diary to do some regular self-care?
Have you experienced any of these things but not taken your own advice? So, what can you do?
How do I do self-care as a therapist?
‘Self-care is both an ethical and personal essential. It is neither self-indulgent or selfish but a healthy, self-respecting, mature process founded on self-awareness, self-compassion and sometimes, consultation with trusted others. We must start learning to take care of ourselves, properly not just temporarily if we want to survive working from home in this current climate,’ (Karen Stainsby, BACP).
Karen also explains in her paper how vital it is that ‘counselling professions place self-care high up on their ever-growing list of ‘things to do’ and that we don’t sweep it under the carpet.’
Taking care of yourself through using a wide range of different self-care techniques can alleviate the burdens you carry, improve your mood, and give you a positive perspective amongst the chaos. There are many ways to practice self-care, but it can be more difficult to execute as a busy multi-tasking practitioner. Here are some of the less conventional acts of self-care that might fit in and surround your working lifestyle.
To survive as a private psychologist or therapist, you need to set boundaries between work time and personal time. COVID has created financial insecurity and worry across many self-employed professionals. The pressure to perform and protect your business is sky high as well as having a strong sense of responsibility to our client’s well fare. Therefore, this can lead us to cram too many clients in a day or to work late too frequently in order to be available and accommodate others’ diaries. The truth is, working non-stop can start to pull you away from who you are. Prioritizing work over your personal life over an extended period leaves you feeling exhausted, isolated and, you guessed it, stressed and burned out.
Karen Stainsby in her BACP article continues to explain that “Boundaries are fundamental to providing an ethical and safe service, protecting both client and practitioner and are crucial to self-care.” It can be difficult to prevent work from taking over, (especially without a boss to oversee or clock out time) so recognizing your boundaries and create a balance between work and life is a way of respecting yourself as a person as well as a professional.
Time management at home
A way to ensure a calmer work life is to manage your time effectively. We all know the job description of ‘therapist’ does not end there. Tasks such as admin, business management, marketing, client notes, chasing fees, and responding to queries are all part of your working day and can become muddled if not separated clearly. Simplify your working day by making a list of what you specifically want to achieve from that day at work and set a designated time for doing so. You could choose to do admin Tuesday mornings and client notes for the last two hours of each day. It may be helpful for you to build a timetable mapping out the different parts of your day (including a lunch break) as you would in the office.
Setting time frames throughout the day is important. They help you respect the time you have set, making it ‘official’ and therefore the rest of your afternoon or evening can be spent doing the things you enjoy or are important to your personally. "Either run the day or the day runs you." -Jim Rohn
Separating the space in which you carry out these tasks (using the study for client sessions and the living room for admin) can really help. Consider areas in your house that are a ‘no go’ zone for working, such as your bedroom. This way, when it comes to relaxing after work you have created that personal area to unwind in. Spaces with natural light and windows or filled with indoor plants are great for a peaceful setting.
Different spaces to work in to do tasks for a certain amount of time provide separation in your mind, allowing you to distinguish and clarify your tasks rather than having a jumbled and disorganized routine.
Organize and prioritize your time off
We all have jam-packed diaries for work but seem to lack the same planning approach to our downtime. Creating a structured schedule for your time away from the desk can help you visually see the plans you have made and psychologically allow you to look forward to them.
Taking the time to thoughtfully plan and date activities will stop the temptation of ‘quickly’ catching up with work emails when you are at your son’s football match (something therapists know all too well).
Stop feeling bad about taking holidays. Just because you do not have to ask for time off from a boss does not mean you aren't entitled to one. Chose to organize to do something you love or value and that will leave you feeling refreshed. Taking longer breaks allows you to give yourself that much need time to recharge and refocus, supporting and prioritizing your mental health and wellbeing.
Talk about it
As a therapist, you are an expert at talking and listening, but not always so great at taking your own advice (admit it!). If you are feeling down, anxious --why not do what you recommend to clients? Speak up and seek support. JR Thorpe, a writer from Bustle says that “When you are working on your own, it can be really easy to allow failures, shortcomings and inner critic thoughts to take you down hard". This could not be truer for the thousands of us working alone. If you are in the midst of a difficult client situation or struggling to manage the business side of your practice, it is a guarantee that you are not the only one. Finding a good mentor, coach, or community of like-minded professionals to meet with and build relationships with is essential in combatting this. You can also join a private practitioners Facebook group, connect with local professionals on LinkedIn, or attend open webinars where you can engage with other professionals sharing your challenges.
Use your supervisor
Another support system you can count on to talk to is your supervisor. “The relevance and importance of supervision to self-care can’t be underestimated, contributing to care of the ‘person within the practitioner’,” (Karen Stainsby BACP). Talking with them is self-care, so explain if you are feeling uncertain of how to adapt your working in a post COVID environment or ask for some advice on how to manage your work/life balance when working from home. Connecting with others is something that has been dialed down following the pandemic, so we can forget how much it can positively impact wellbeing. Having a relationship with your supervisor provides support that may be missing from working alone.
Not going into the workplace or walking around an office all day can have a bigger impact on your psychical health than you think. Sitting for long hours talking to clients with little to no movement can cause tension, neck cramps, painful headaches and aching shoulders. Commit to taking an online yoga class, walking your dog, or going for a run with friends at least once a day. Choosing to do even 10 minutes of exercise away from your desk can help you relieve muscle tension, improve your mood, and enable a better night’s sleep. Better sleep also means the better focus for when you are working. Exercise has so many psychological benefits so get moving in a way that works for you to get that ‘feel good’ factor into your life.
Take away... The last year has had effected us all in ways we least expected and we as private practitioners. Just remember to cut yourself some slack, try to prioritise 'me' time and use the activities you enjoy to regenerate, ready for another year ahead.
JR Thorpe Bustle Article - 9 Self-Care Tips For People Who Are Self-Employed, According To Experts (bustle.com)
Karen Stainsby -BACP Good Practice in Action 088: Fact Sheet Resource: Self-care for the counselling professions - bacp-self-care-fact-sheet-gpia088-jul18.pdf
NBC NEWS -Article by Doha Madani Therapists are under strain in COVID-19 era, counselling clients on trauma they're also experiencing themselves (nbcnews.com)
Lucy Gregor – Maybe you should talk to someone Book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives ... - Lori Gottlieb - Google Books
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