Therapists are known for their empathy, ability to listen, and compassion for others. They build these skills over time, through many patients and thousands of hours of sessions. Yet that doesn’t preclude therapists from job stress. Many therapists may find that while they are experts at helping guide others through stress management, they don’t take their own advice and manage their stress.
We are humans – there are going to be times when even mental health care professionals have difficulty coping with the stress level of their job. Let’s take a look at how to manage the stresses that come with being a licensed mental health counselor.
Recognizing you’re stressed out in the first place is key to implementing coping strategies. You may not realize how stressed you are. If you’re feeling restless, frazzled, or frustrated, take a beat to check in on your body and look for signals that you need a break, just like you might tell patients to do. This is especially true if you’re feeling overly anxious, worried, or paralyzed with feelings of being overwhelmed.
A great form of protection from stress is boundaries. Are you pushing yourself too hard at work? What about on the weekends or off-hours? Establish strong boundaries around when and how sessions start and finish. If you’re running over at the office, or thinking about work constantly, it’s a sign you need to slow down and recalibrate so that you don’t overwork yourself.
Think about whether you’re allowing enough time in between sessions to write up notes, check emails, eat or drink something, answer phone calls or texts, and so on. Giving yourself even 10 minutes between each individual therapy session to recharge can do wonders for lowering stress levels. It’ll also prove beneficial for your next client, who will appreciate that you’re refreshed and ready to take on their issues of the day. Of course, sometimes sessions will run slightly longer, but do your best to hold that tight boundary so you have that time for yourself.
Leaving work at work is often one of the best ways to create a delineation between your time on the job and your time at home, with family, and so on. Complete notes, take phone calls, answer emails, and so on at the office before taking all that home.
For therapists who telecommute or are hosting teletherapy sessions, it’s important to have demarcation times that indicate when you’re “at the office,” even if you’re in your home. Don’t answer emails late at night, for example – would you do that if you were going into the office? Unless it’s a true emergency, it can wait.
You are already familiar with a lot of the ideas we’ll present here, because you have likely recommended these to your patients! If you’re having trouble allowing yourself to manage your stress level, treat yourself like you’d treat a client. If a client pushed back, what would you tell them? Open yourself up to the possibility that you might be going through similar moments to what they’ve experienced, and offer yourself the same mental health counseling you’ve given them.
Everyone’s tastes vary, but a common (and nearly guaranteed) way to destress is utilizing mindfulness techniques. Meditating, even for 10 minutes, can greatly reduce stress. So can journaling your feelings, or practicing breathing exercises. If you’re into it, practicing yoga also has shown itself to help with reducing stress, alongside additional health benefits. In fact, some might consider exercising to be a mindfulness technique, since it typically grounds you in the present moment. Take the dog for a walk, go for a quick hike, hit the gym, throw a mini dance party for yourself, or do something to get your body moving and out of your head.
Another stress management technique is to simply rest. Take your own mental health day. Delegate tasks if possible, and take everything off your plate that isn’t absolutely necessary to get done right now, even for a few hours. Indulge in relaxation, however that works for you. Some enjoy cooking, finding the practice of perfecting a recipe to be meditative. Others enjoy gardening, creative writing, painting, playing music, knitting – whatever it is that you’re into, carve out time and space to enjoy it and unwind. Have the time and money? Take yourself on a spa day, a weekend getaway, or a bigger vacation. The larger point here is to do whatever you need to do in order to rest and recharge.
If you feel as if your daily life is in chaos, see if there are ways to get back on track with daily habits that will help alleviate stress in your day-to-day life. Lean into daily habits and establish a morning and night routine. This can include anything and everything, from running and meditation to spiritual practices and face masks. It’s just about organizing your life so that you don’t feel as discombobulated. Even taking the time to just make a nice meal, tidy up or organize your home briefly can do a lot for your mental state.
Support systems are in place for a reason – to support. Spend time with your family and friends. Seek out your own therapist. In fact, many therapists have regular sessions of their own, or get consultations from other therapists as an outlet for their personal issues. These can also provide feedback on your work, which in turn helps you become an even better therapist.
Alternately, practice what you preach and use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques on yourself. Manage your thinking (I will never have a moment of rest again), so you have the opportunity to turn your thoughts around into something more realistic (this too shall pass). Give yourself the gift of perspective and recognize what is super important versus what is a task that can be put off until tomorrow.
Stress is going to happen, especially with a job as intense and focused as mental health care. You might feel completely underwater, but don’t worry. There are plenty of healthy tools you can use and put into place to prevent you from feeling like you’re drowning. Even if these ideas don’t fully resonate, they may spark other ideas that fit your current lifestyle better. No matter what, come up with ideas and plans to handle your own stress that you can implement – and know that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have at the moment!
For other frequently asked questions that therapists may have, anything from the best counseling office decor ideas to how to become a child therapist, our resource center has you covered so that you can put your best energy towards your job.