by John Gavazzi, PsyD ABPP
Psychologists aim for excellence in all of their professional roles. We often do not realize that average, everyday concerns, such as balancing professional stresses with personal life, reflect important aspirational ethical considerations. Within the domain of positive ethics, psychologists must be attuned to self-care and engage. Because, within the context of psychotherapy, we use ourselves as an instrument of our trade, self-care is essential to effective treatment. Unless we take optimal care of ourselves, it is less likely that psychologists can provide the best possible services.
Ironically, while we encourage our clients to meet their own needs, psychologists often neglect their own self-care. There are a number of terms used to describe the occupational hazards of practicing psychotherapy, including “burnout” and “compassion fatigue.” Because working therapeutically with others involves empathy, this necessary and often rewarding emotional connection can also be the source of physical and emotional difficulties for the treating psychologist. We all know that whether a client is depressed, manic, traumatized, anxious, or cycling in chaos, the psychologist uses his or her cognitive and emotional resources as part of treatment. Combine the need to use extensive cognitive and emotional skills with long hours, managed care shenanigans, HIPAA requirements, and any other stressor of maintaining a practice, it is easy to see how working as a psychologist can be physically and emotionally exhausting.
Psychologists must remain aware of the requirements of our work and plan for stressors in order to function well. By engaging in healthy self-care activities, we are better able to take care of personal lives, and ourselves, which ultimately lead to better treatment for our clients.
APA recently published a document for psychologists to educate their patients on “Building Your Resilience.” While APA geared the document for patients, psychologists may want to review the suggestions to help build their resilience. Here are some of the suggestions:
Find positive ways to reduce stress and negative feelings
Following a stressful event, many people feel they need to turn away from the negative thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. Positive distractions such as exercising, going to a movie or reading a book can help renew you so you can re-focus on meeting challenges in your life. Avoid numbing your unpleasant feelings with alcohol or drugs.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery
People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
Nurture a positive view of yourself
Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective
Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion. Strong emotional reactions to adversity are normal and typically lessen over time.
Maintain a hopeful outlook
An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Take care of yourself.
Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing and that contribute to good health, including regular exercise and healthy eating. Taking care of yourself helps keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
We all could use these types of reminders from time to time.