Self Care – 10 Top Tips for Therapists

You might wonder why therapists need tips about self-care. After all, we’re supposed to know all about coping with stress, to have lots of techniques at our fingertips, and (most of all) to have a dream job helping others which is fulfilling and satisfying. All that might be true, but therapists can be tempted to put other people’s needs before their own, and sometimes they need to stop and take stock. After all, as every airline tells you, you put your own oxygen mask on first so you are in a fit state to help others.

Why therapists need self-care

John Duffy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, defined self-care as “attending to your own needs such that you are content, focused, motivated, and ‘on your game.’” That goes for therapists as well as parents.

Therapists can care just too much, (see my other blog on ‘why your empathy can get you down’) and are at risk of ‘burnout’ which basically means you are so overloaded emotionally you simply can’t cope any more.

At the other end of the scale, they can cope by compartmentalising so much that they don’t empathise with clients at all. As in any job dealing with people in distress, a bit of detachment is necessary so you don’t get so caught up in your client’s point of view that you can’t help them look at things differently. But too much is counter-productive.

Self-care helps you avoid both of these extremes, staying empathetic and engaged without becoming overwhelmed. So here are our top tips.

Self-care for therapists 

  1. Accept that your self-care routines are as important as doing your accounts, seeing clients and answering the phone. Schedule time for them in your diary, and ditch any guilt or doubts about prioritising your own needs.
  2. Set specific hours during which you are available to clients, and be strict with yourself. Have a separate phone for work which you switch off every day, and if someone genuinely can’t attend during your usual client hours, consider adding an ‘out of hours’ fee to your usual price.
  3. Set clear boundaries. Let clients know under what circumstances, and how, they should contact you between therapy sessions. Needing to change or cancel an appointment is obviously OK, but daily updates, calls and questions (unless you have agreed to this as part of the therapy) are too much. If frequent between-session contact is part of your therapy, make sure you factor it in to your working hours (and hourly rates).
  4. Get a good supervisor or support group who can be there for you through your victories, moments of doubt and personal crises (we all have these, we’re people as well as therapists). I'm happy to recommend supervisors if you don't already have one. Email me.
  5. Get organised. Use time management protocols like this one so you know what you can realistically take on and what you should either hire someone else to do or turn down.
  6. Talking of which, outsource if you can, especially time-consuming jobs or the ones you don't enjoy. For example, when I went full time, I hired a cleaner. Two extra client hours per month - which I enjoy more than cleaning - pays her wage.
  7. Use relaxation techniques regularly. It’s always good to use the self-care methods you give your clients but, for some, it can overlap too closely with work. For example, I often find myself analysing someone's voice and delivery if I listen to a relaxation audio, although my clients love the ones I give them. If that's you as well, look for alternatives e.g. going for a massage if you’re a hypnotherapist.
  8. Quality of self-care can be more important than quantity. Ten minutes with a book, playing with your kids or dog, chatting to your partner or friends, watching 'mindless' TV, or walking around the block will boost your emotional batteries.
  9. If you worked for someone else you would have around four weeks holiday a year. Take holidays from your therapy too, and don’t answer work calls or emails while you are away. It’s what vacation responses and answer-phones are for.
  10. Since I’m writing in December, make it one of your New Year Resolutions to improve your self-care. If you’re reading this at any other time of year, pick a date and make a resolution anyway!

How to improve your self-care routines

As you probably tell your clients, it can be hard to make too many changes at once. Then you end up giving up the whole thing in disgust and not making any changes at all.

Pick one of two of the ideas above and put them in place right now. Start with the easiest.

Then, each month, add another or improve the ones you already have (e.g. number 8 - take fifteen minutes a day for yourself instead of ten) until you are confident you are taking care of yourself as well as you take care of your clients.


Author: is an experienced hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook, both of which are available from Amazon.
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