Being a licensed therapist is a rewarding career that allows you to help people better their lives through in-person and online therapy. There is a downside, though—the potential for burnout. Though therapists are experts at caring for others, they often overlook their own needs which increases the chance of job burnout. Thankfully, burnout isn’t permanent; it can be treated and even avoided with proper self-care.
This guide to therapist burnout recovery will walk you through the stages of job burnout and recovery, including identifying the causes of therapist burnout, knowing burnout symptoms, and steps toward burnout prevention. Even if you’re not currently feeling the effects of therapist burnout, it’s still important to be aware of the warning signs so that if you do feel burned out, you can take steps to avoid it becoming worse.
Therapist burnout refers to a set of psychological, physical, and emotional symptoms that include feelings of emotional exhaustion and apathy, decreased passion for work, cynicism towards clients, and so on. Burnout is often characterized by increased anxiety and self-doubt about your ability to do your job well. In short: it’s miserable! Psychologists who specialize in therapist burnout recovery say that any mental health professional can experience it, but therapists are especially susceptible because of the nature of their work.
There are many causes of therapist burnout, including:
Focus on Others: Most therapists are drawn to the field because it offers them a chance to help others. While this is certainly a noble motivation, it can backfire; because you’re so focused on patient care, you may put their needs before your own, which can lead to burnout.
Lack of Boundaries: Therapists are committed professionals who are passionate about helping others navigate life’s challenges and improve their mental health. Because of their passion for the job, it may be difficult for therapists to separate their working lives from their personal lives. This lack of boundaries is a common cause of therapist burnout.
Overwork: There’s no doubt that therapists do important work that improves people’s lives in a tangible way. However, there is a downside to this noble mission: the tendency to overwork. Because you understand the value of your profession, you may take on more work than you can handle and resist the urge to take breaks, which is a major cause of burnout.
Loss of Control: Another common cause of therapist burnout is feeling like you have little to no control over your work. While therapists do all they can to help others, the results are firmly up to the patient. This lack of control can cause feelings of helplessness and frustration, leading to burnout.
Little Recognition: Studies have repeatedly shown a link between job satisfaction and feeling appreciated. Unfortunately, a licensed therapist can work tirelessly for years without any recognition of their contributions. Therapists can go the extra mile such as providing sliding scale fee therapy and still not be appreciated—another cause of burnout.
Systemic Issues: Therapist burnout can also be traced to systemic issues within the occupation. If you were wondering, “How much do therapists make,” many mental health professionals often have to deal with understaffing, a lack of funding, lower pay, insurance issues, and a high-pressure environment. These inherent challenges are partially to blame for the high rates of therapist burnout.
Even though therapists are experts in patient care, they may not personally recognize burnout symptoms. Burnout develops gradually, which can make the symptoms especially hard to detect. If you want to learn how to be a successful therapist and avoid burnout, here’s what you need to look for:
A drop in your level of commitment can be a symptom of burnout. What’s your current level of commitment like? How does it compare to when you first started out in the field? Has your commitment to work begun to waver? Do you doubt its effectiveness? If you used to be eager to start the day and now you dread going into work, that could be a red flag indicating burnout.
Procrastination is another common symptom of burnout. Think about how productive you’ve been in the past month or two. Are you able to manage your workload or do you find yourself putting things off? Are there any tasks you’ve been delaying repeatedly? If you continue to delay your work and push it off to another day, there’s a chance you could be suffering from burnout.
Another common manifestation of burnout is a feeling of exhaustion. How have your energy levels been lately? Is it hard to find the energy to do your work? Do you feel like you’re never well-rested, even if you’ve had a full nights’ sleep? If you’ve been putting in long hours with few breaks or boundaries, it’s likely you’ve started to feel physical and emotional exhaustion, another effect of burnout.
If you’re experiencing burnout, don’t be surprised if anger rears its ugly head. Do you find yourself getting irritated with your patients? Have you started becoming more resentful, annoyed, and judgmental toward them? While it’s pretty common to have a client or two who really push your buttons, you may find this reaction cropping up even more frequently during burnout.
A lack of enjoyment is another sign of professional burnout. How have you been feeling lately? Is there anything you’re looking forward to or does it feel like life is nothing but a series of chores? Are you engaging in enjoyable activities outside of work or have you been too tired to do anything else? When you experience burnout, the effects can, unfortunately, carry over into other aspects of your life, causing a lack of enjoyment.
If you’re suffering from therapist burnout, there is some good news: recovery is possible. Here are some burnout prevention steps you can take:
Before you can start preventing burnout, you need to understand how it developed. Take some time to do a bit of self-reflection. Think about the circumstances leading up to your burnout and its primary causes.
While self-reflection is a step in the right direction, you can’t stop there; you now need to make some hard decisions about what in your life needs to change. For example, if your professional burnout was caused by working long hours and your employer won’t allow you to cut back, you may need to consider getting another job.
Once you have a better understanding of what changes to make in your life, the next step is to put your ideas in writing by creating a plan. Don’t worry—you don’t need to implement every change at once. That would be too overwhelming and only add to your burden. You can make changes as quickly or gradually as you’d like; the key here is to make a plan and take steps to improve your circumstances so you can begin preventing burnout.
As you’re going through the process of healing from burnout, it’s important that you take care of yourself every day. That includes getting plenty of rest, eating right, taking time to exercise, and engaging in activities you enjoy. Doing these things daily will go a long way in healing the wounds caused by burnout.
After you’ve started implementing changes, take time to evaluate your progress. How well have you done so far? What changes have been beneficial? Which ones haven’t been effective? Reflect on your progress, reward yourself for your successes, and make changes to the plan if needed.
Throughout the healing process, it’s important that you be kind to yourself. Instead of berating yourself for getting into this situation, recognize that you’re human, just like all the rest of us. The key is to treat yourself kindly and use the experience to learn and grow.
Every therapist needs a therapist. If you don’t already have one, seek out someone who can answer your therapy questions and someone you can trust to walk you through your journey toward recovery from burnout.
Burnout among therapists with a private therapy practice may be common, but it’s not unavoidable. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent therapist burnout.
Know Your Limits: One of the best ways to avoid becoming burned out is to know what your limits are. Do you get exhausted after working overtime in the evenings? Then make a firm rule that you never work more than eight hours per day and you leave the office by 6:00 PM.
Take Breaks Regularly: Taking regular breaks, both during the workday and the year, will go a long way toward helping you avoid burnout. Humans are not machines; we need extended breaks in order to operate at our best. So instead of seeing clients back-to-back for the entire day, schedule a couple of breaks between appointments. You should also try to take at least one or two weeks off from work every year to help you recharge.
Simplify Your Practice: Burnout can be caused by juggling too many responsibilities at once; to avoid this, try simplifying your practice. This can be done in several ways. For example, to streamline marketing for therapists along with payment, you could use a service like Advekit that matches you with patients in your area and handles billing for out-of-network insurance.
Leave Work at the Office: While it’s honorable to be dedicated to your clients’ wellbeing, this doesn’t mean you should take your work home with you. To help prevent burnout, you need to set clear boundaries between your professional and personal life. Do your best to leave work at the office so you can enjoy your free time.
Practice Self Care: As a mental health professional, it’s easy to put the needs of others before your own. If you want to avoid burnout, you must reorder your priorities and start taking better care of yourself. This includes getting enough rest, eating healthy foods, spending time with family and friends, and engaging in hobbies and other enjoyable activities.
Therapist burnout recovery is not an easy task but it’s absolutely possible to get through the tough times and come out the other side rejuvenated and ready to provide amazing care to your clients. The therapist burnout recovery process can be long and difficult, but with the right amount of rest, relaxation, and reflection, you can recover from it quickly or even better, prevent burnout from occurring in the first place.