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Therapist Burnout: Identifying the Signs and Managing Your Practice

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

For counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other mental health providers, the practice of psychotherapy can be enriching. Psychotherapists positively impact their clients’ lives, helping them develop strategies to promote mental wellness, cope with mental illness, and live a fulfilling life. At the same time, psychotherapy is a high-stress work environment, and the profession can be emotionally exhausting and demanding.

According to the Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy, psychotherapists face a high risk of job burnout, vicarious traumatization, and emotional distress. Without the right practice management and self-care strategies, mental health clinicians risk developing problems that can degrade their professional competence. Whether you’re on the road to therapist burnout or experiencing personal stressors, it’s essential to carefully assess your current professional and emotional stressors and make a plan to address them. Here’s how to identify the signs of burnout, manage your practice, and prioritize your mental wellness.

Therapist Burnout

Recognizing the Symptoms of Therapist Burnout

Emotional distress is a normal part of life, and all therapists experience mental health concerns from time to time. Working with clients mismatched to your skills and specialties, dealing with paperwork, putting in long hours, and juggling your personal life, working as a mental health provider creates unique stressors, putting therapists at a high risk of burnout.

If left unchecked, emotional distress and high levels of stress can contribute to burnout, leaving you feeling exhausted, drained, and unable to keep up with the demands of running your practice. Some common signs of burnout include:

  • Emotional exhaustion, low mood, and compassion fatigue
  • Depersonalization (a loss of empathy, compassion, and caring)
  • Compassion fatigue
  • Difficulty managing your workload or functioning in daily life
  • A decreased sense of accomplishment or lowered productivity levels
  • Taking more sick days than usual
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
  • Physical symptoms, including physical exhaustion, headaches, stomachaches, and increased illness
  • Increased pessimism, cynicism, or difficulty maintaining an optimistic state of mind
  • Feeling like you never have enough energy or get a good night’s sleep

Therapist burnout affects everyone differently; mental health clinicians have different work experiences. Mental health professionals may experience varying stressors at different points of their careers, and various client experiences can take an emotional toll. To take care of yourself and your clients, it’s vital to be self-aware and monitor yourself for signs of chronic work-related stress.

How To Manage Your Practice While Experiencing Burnout

As a therapist, it’s easy to focus so much on others’ needs that you forget about your own. It might feel like there’s no separation between your professional identity and personal life, as each influences the other.

When symptoms of burnout develop, it’s important to take a step back, reassess your situation, and make any changes needed to get your well-being and passion for work back on track. Without the right actionable plan, therapist burnout can have a negative impact on your professional life, behavior, and effectiveness.

Here are some tips for managing (and preventing) the physical and mental exhaustion of burnout.

  • Create a self-care plan. Personal restoration and self-care practices are often considered an ethical imperative for therapists. It can help you prioritize your mental wellness, set healthy boundaries, and achieve a healthier work-life balance. At a minimum, your self-care plan should include eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, engaging in hobbies, nurturing your relationships, and practicing healthy stress management.
  • Check-in with yourself. Check-in with yourself regularly to make sure your personal needs are being met. Along these lines, you should pay attention to individual warning signs that may indicate burnout. For example, suppose you’re globally experiencing boredom during work hours, feeling resentment, canceling many appointments, or self-medicating with substance abuse. In that case, it’s time to reach out to colleagues and your therapist for help. Depending on your situation, you may need to take sick leave, join a peer support group, or engage in more intensive therapy.
  • Remember that you don’t have to do it alone. For social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and other mental health providers, reaching out for professional help can feel intimidating and possibly embarrassing or shameful. You might feel like you can manage your mental wellness on your own. Still, therapy can help you develop effective coping skills to deal with work-related stressors, cope with emotional fatigue, and manage the effects of burnout.

WithTherapy Is Designed To Make You Feel More In Control of Your Professional Life

Intuitive technology can be leveraged to lessen the risk of therapist burnout. The team behind WithTherapy designed the technology to help therapists find patients who are the best fit for their skills and specialties. As therapists ourselves, we know firsthand how a good therapist-patient match helps energize us and reminds us why we chose this profession in the first place. It also increases the chances that patients make the improvements they seek.

WithTherapy helps patients find you and your practice via guided search, efficient scheduling features, and intelligent clinical matches. In short, it offers an effective way to find prospective clients who match your skillset as a mental health provider. This means higher chances of success and retention with your matches and better therapeutic relationships throughout the process. This is a clear win-win situation for everyone.

WithTherapy is an intelligent therapist search platform designed to be compassionate and inclusive. We aim to connect you with clients that fit your unique talents, specialties, and experience to improve your client relationships and the health of your mental health practice. Learn more about the comprehensive WithTherapy patient matching and scheduling system today to assess how it might improve any emotional exhaustion you’re experiencing due to administrative burden or poor client-therapist fit.

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