As therapists, we spend our days helping people through difficult times. Our subject matter is heavy. Each hour brings a new cognitive, emotional or relational conflict for us to understand and confront. It’s fascinating work, but it takes its toll. It’s all too easy to focus on improving our clients’ self-care at the expense of our own. Even with an awareness of compassion fatigue and the impact of vicarious trauma, it’s easy to think ‘it won’t happen to me’.
We can also fall into the trap of thinking that, because the lives of our clients are so awful, our needs pale in comparison. We can be blind to the impact on ourselves until it’s almost too late.
If we don’t take a break once in a while, we run the risk of burning out. And if that happens, we’re no use to anyone.
There are lots of things you can do to exercise self-care. You can meditate, unload at regular supervision sessions, work through your stress with sand play or other creative therapies and, importantly, take proper holidays, to ensure you have sufficient time to unwind, relax and recharge.
But holidays are not just important to prevent burn-out. Taking time out from being a therapist is important for other reasons:
To regain a healthy perspective
As therapists, we deal with some dark topics. From childhood sexual abuse, to complex trauma, we’re regularly immersed in the darker side of what human beings are capable of. Doing this on a daily basis can have negative effects on our mental health.
Even the most positive thinking therapist might start to suffer from secondary traumatic stress.
Getting away from it all, even for a couple of days, can nip this in the bud. A change of scenery and new stimulation can do wonders for rebalancing our sense of perspective.
To spend quality time with family and friends
In the care profession, we work long and often unsociable hours, mostly in solitude. Holidays give us the opportunity to leave our worries and stress behind and focus on spending quality time with loved ones.
Whether you’re dipping your toes into a pool, soaking up the sun on a beach, doing something active or experiencing a spot of culture, the break will reset your mind and give you a wonderful mental boost.
To improve your mental health
Your mental health is just as important as the people you help. Neuroscientists have found that brain structure is altered by chronic exposure to the stress hormone cortisol, which can be a major contributing factor to anxiety and depression.
When we’re on holiday and out of a stressful environment, the body and mind have an opportunity to heal in ways they couldn’t if they were still under pressure.
Taking a summer break models self-care to clients. How can we expect them to learn to value and care for themselves if we don’t do the same?
It also gives them a chance to see how they get on without you.
Holidays can make us mentally sharper and more creative
If your mind is emotionally exhausted, you won’t be functioning at your best for your clients. Just as you need to take breaks during the working day to remain productive, you also need prolonged breaks where you can rest properly.
Just be sure to give your clients as much notice as possible.
If you don’t have the time or money to escape the country for a much-needed break, why not enrol in my ‘Separatio – This is Yours, this is Mine’ course? You’ll learn to recognise when you’re being triggered by client’s material. And how to maintain a sense of therapeutic distance to protect yourself from burn-out.
For course dates, more details and an application form, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org