Therapists spend so much time helping other people with their mental health, it kind of begs the question: how do they look after their own?
Like, on the one hand, they’re obviously well-equipped with the mental health know-how to look after themselves, but on the other, spending all day sitting with people and their mental health problems can’t be easy.
To get some answers, BuzzFeed Health asked 10 therapists what self-care means to them. Here’s what they shared:
“I keep thinking about how different self-care would be depending on what therapist you ask. My coworker who has three children to go home to is going to have a different version of self-care than my coworker who runs her own side business on top of a full-time job. For some, self-care means quality time with family, unwinding from mindless television at the end of a long day, planning vacation times, and participating in social activities outside of work, all offering a different reward.
For myself, I have always found most of my self-care — my refueling — in more introverted activities. I do my best when I get to listen to meditations that ground me on a daily basis, step out into nature, spend time taking care of my own personal to do list, etc.”
—Beth Rue, MSS, LSW, primary therapist at Summit Behavioral Health
“I think a lot of helping professionals find it second-nature to guide and support others on their life journeys while we can easily lose ourselves in the mix. What helps me immediately during and after an emotionally challenging day is to use humor to lighten things up for myself. Sometimes that means cracking jokes with colleagues to lessen the stress felt that day, or having a light-hearted and humorous conversation with someone who ‘gets me’ and my sense of humor, or watching a show or film I know I will get a kick out of to make myself laugh. Laughing out loud is a powerful antidote to emotional distress that always helps me lift my spirit.”
—Gabriela Parra, LCSW, California-based clinical social worker
“Most important to me is being aware of what’s going on for me at any given time. Being honest with myself about where I am emotionally, and what might make me more sensitive or less objective than usual — what might make me not be able to do my best work. I accept that I am human and may have humanly imperfect reactions to things, but I have to stay on top of them to keep them from getting in the way.
I also like to create a buffer between work and home: taking some time after my sessions just to decompress and clear my mind, even if brief, before I immediately sail into Mom/Wife/Friend mode with the people in my life. And of course, above all, I have to keep taking care of myself: practice what I preach in terms of having hobbies, being active, getting outdoor time, prioritizing sleep (this one can be tough!) and staying social with the people whose company I enjoy.”
—Andrea Bonior, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World
“I try to take care of myself physically by going to the gym regularly and exercising. Working out gives me a tremendous boost in how I feel physically and mentally. I also practice what I preach, which is not to compare myself to others. It is important not to project onto other people thoughts that their lives are so much better than my life or that I have am not successful because I have not accomplished what others may have achieved.”
—Marc Romano, PsyD, director of medical services at Delphi Behavioral Health
“Quite similar to self-care for everyone else. A multi-vitamin is incredibly important for self-care for me. Work-wise, mixing my daily tasks with learning and upgrading my skills. Going for an evening walk is really important for me too. I take my child to the park for a run around and then put her in the stroller and do my own walk.”
“A go-to for me in order to decompress and recharge is getting out in nature. Nature-therapy, as I like to call it, allows me to be in the moment, check in with myself, connect with the world around me, and get some much needed fresh air. The benefits of spending time in nature are unbe-leaf-able (!) as it is a proven way to calm the mind and body!”
—Joanna Boyd, MCP, RCC, Vancouver, Canada-based clinical counsellor
“For me, self-care means being fully engaged with a client when we’re together, giving all I can through my attention, care, and planning, and then letting them return to their life when the day is done as I turn my attention back to my own needs. Many years ago I realized that taking my work home stemmed from a lack of trust. I felt I didn’t give enough in the sessions and needed to worry to make up for it. But this wasn’t true. I found that I needed to trust that I’m giving all I can to my clients, trust that they are capable of healthy growth and self-care, and trust in the therapeutic process; that our collaboration is a force for good.
Of course, there are exceptional cases that require work beyond the session, and I often think of my clients when I’m off the clock, but I’m able to enjoy my down time more when I embrace trust. When I have trust in myself, my clients, and therapy, I can pivot to enjoy time with my family, working out, playing in my rock band, and continuing my weekly quest to create the world’s best spaghetti sauce.”
—Ryan Howes, PhD, clinical psychologist and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology
“Much of my self-care involves activities that help me to feel calm, strong, and connected – all important things in my line of work. I spend a lot of quiet time in nature, which helps me to slow things down and calm both my body and my mind. I also really love group fitness classes, which help me to feel strong both inside and out, and ready to support my clients through the most challenging of moments. Perhaps most importantly, I spend time with friends and family, with whom I feel loved and supported. When things become difficult or overwhelming, they help me find perspective, sometimes simply with a much needed laugh.”
—Amanda Zayde, PsyD, New York City-based clinical psychologist
“It’s so important for us to practice what we preach! Namely, having a balanced life that includes time with friends and family, getting a good night’s sleep and eating well, exercising, and doing things just for me (e.g., reading a good summer novel, cheering on my Tennessee Titans games, etc.). It’s also incredibly valuable to have a trusted mentor or two to seek guidance from when things have been particularly stressful.”
—Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine
“I try to practice exactly what I recommend my clients: at least a few minutes of daily mindfulness practice, a daily gratitude minute, regular exercise (like 4-5 times/week), and time with people. There are so many incredible benefits to learning to enter the moment, turn towards the positive, develop a sense of accomplishment, and experience connections.
People do ask me about the difficulty of sitting with people in pain. Of course I empathize and it is hard to hear about how deeply some of my clients are struggling. That said, I find my job to be an opportunity. I totally believe evidence-based tools can change people’s lives so generally feel lucky and hopeful that people are courageous and that the science of psychology has evolved in a significant way.”
—Jennifer L. Taitz, PsyD, LA-based clinical psychologist
By the way, if you’re feeling curious about therapy yourself, you can learn more about how to start here, since pretty much everyone can benefit from talking to a professional. For more information on free and affordable mental health care options, check out this guide.
By Anna Borges