According to the BACP, self-care is an ongoing process, defined as making a conscious effort to do things that maintain, improve and repair your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellness.
Therapists tend to be good at helping clients but can often see their own needs as lower in priority, or perhaps not even recognise their needs at all. Working with trauma, distress and intense emotions in therapy can result in compassion fatigue.
Therapists in private practice working from home can enjoy benefits such as flexibility, but it can also make it difficult to switch off and maintain clear boundaries between work and rest.
The pressures of managing a busy workload in private practice, responding to calls, emails, messages and social media at all hours can quickly result in therapists feeling tired, stressed and in danger of burnout. Running a therapy business can give you a sense of freedom and autonomy that comes from being your own boss, but it can also intensify the pressure and tendency to put others needs above your own.
As a therapist it’s particularly important to recognise and prioritise your own needs to avoid burn out, but also because it will result in a happier and healthier you.
In practice taking some simple steps can make a real difference to your own mental health, to how effectively you work and therefore to your client’s wellbeing.
Firstly, it can be helpful to make a decision about working hours, to communicate this clearly and then stick to it. For example, adding ‘I work Monday – Wednesday and can only answer calls and emails between 9am and 6pm’ to your website and your email signature can help manage client expectations and give you permission to switch off.
Develop a good morning routine. Reading emails in bed before you are dressed is a recipe for stress. A good morning routine can help set you up for a productive day, helping you to feel in control. A morning routine can be whatever you want it to be. A simple routine of 5 minutes meditation, 5 minutes intention setting, and 5 minutes exercise is manageable for most people and can make a huge difference to your day.
Take breaks. When you are your own boss it can be easy to work through lunch and forget to take a break. Make a point of eating lunch away from your desk. Take regular breaks and if possible, take them outdoors. Being outdoors can give your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing a boost.
Manage your digital life. Being constantly connected to the internet can impact on your mental health. Negative news stories, notifications, emails and messages can impinge on your day. Try switching off your notifications. Better still, try switching your phone off for set periods during the day to give yourself a break.
Get physical. Exercise can also help reduce stress, joining a yoga class or going for a run can make a difference to how you feel. On a daily basis try walking or stretching in breaks between clients.
Self-care can also mean taking time to do things you enjoy, for example, cooking your favourite meal, having a massage or going for a swim.
When running a therapy business maintaining healthy boundaries, recognising your own needs and being proactive in meeting them is important from both a personal and professional perspective. Not only will it result in a happier you, but it will also enhance your capacity for therapeutic engagement, helping you to practice more effectively.
Ani de la Prida is a therapist, writer and lecturer. She runs Dandelion Workshops delivering courses and workshops on various topics, including cyberpsychology and nurturing retreat days.