Physician, Heal Thyself: The Importance of Self-Care for Mental Health Care Providers

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Importance of Self-Care for Mental Health Care Providers

It is well known that therapists (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors) need to maintain good mental health in order to be effective. In fact, entire books have been written on the topic of how those in the helping professions can take care of themselves. The phrase “compassion fatigue” has been used to describe the phenomenon of psychological distress or indifference which arises in those who are repeatedly called upon to care for others, extend themselves emotionally, or generally support those who are suffering. The degree of compassion fatigue may relate to the severity of the suffering, or the frequency of these calls, though most seasoned clinicians have had at least a few moments when they felt “burnt out”. These experiences, though, should not go unnoticed or unattended to, as compassion fatigue or burn-out can result in diminished quality of treatment for clients or patients.

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Importance of Self-Care for Mental Health Care Providers

So why is it so hard for providers to heed their own advice and practice self-care?

Physicians often have not experienced the ailments they’re treating. However, if it is possible for a provider to walk in the shoes of the client, why wouldn’t they take that opportunity? Understanding what it’s like to call a therapist, navigate payments or insurance, even feeling what it feels like to wait in the waiting room of a mental health provider is worth doing.  Beyond that, actually using the therapy tools can help providers to better understand their work with their clients. Training seminars with experiential or participatory components are often the most effective and compelling because they give the provider a chance to really understand what it’s like to be a client going through the intervention. Having personally examined one’s core beliefs, or spent some time on building one’s own exposure hierarchy can enable therapists to be more effective when using these tools with clients. It opens one up to see the challenges and opportunities that exist.

This is not a novel idea. Indeed, Freud suggested that therapists engage in analysis and a survey study in 1994 examined therapists’ engagement in therapy. As the field has shifted to some degree, so have the types of therapy in which clinicians are encouraged to engage. There have been calls in the literature recently for psychologists to utilize mindfulness-based positive principles and practice and studies have found that MBSR interventions can be effective when taught to therapists-in-training.

Many providers describe feeling too busy as a primary problem, and feel that they don’t have the time for self-care. Often clinicians feel pulled in a number of different directions: direct client contacts, administrative tasks, note taking, supervision, etc. New technology tools, though, can help providers streamline some of their processes to increase efficiency and “make” time. Video conferencing software can save travel time to meetings, and EHRs and billing programs can reduce time spent on note-taking and administrative tasks. Additionally, new mental-health and wellness tools such as Pacifica can make engaging in self-managed CBT more engaging and time-efficient. Pacifica has a library of meditation and relaxation tools, customizable reminders for health behaviors, mood tracking, and a suite of thought record tools for reflecting on one’s own challenging moments. Taking a few self-care moments to check-in with yourself is important, regardless of which side of the room you’re sitting on.

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Importance of Self-Care for Mental Health Care Providers