Preventing burnout: 8 tips from four mental health therapists

May 29, 2024   |   Mental Health Professionals

While burnout is common among healthcare workers today, mental health workers are also tasked with carrying the burden of others –– while somehow still taking care of themselves.  

Nearly half of health workers (46%) reported often feeling burned out in 2022, up from 32% in 2018, according to the CDC. The results of a Simple Practice survey of mental health workers in 2023 found those numbers are even higher. Over half (52%) of the respondents experienced burnout during the last 12 months. 

Most therapists enter the field with aspirations to help others. But, it’s difficult to support clients without first helping yourself. Read the below advice from four experienced therapists on the self-care practices that help them avoid burnout. 

Set boundaries between work and personal life

By its nature, a therapist’s work is burdensome. Developing the skill to emotionally separate once one leaves the office is critical.

Rebecca Leslie, PsyD, a therapist in Atlanta, warns against checking emails first thing in the morning. Instead, give your mind and body a chance to get up. “Start the day with something relaxing, even if it is just for five minutes,” she says.

Working from home makes it especially difficult to close up shop at the end of a work day. Angela Dobrzynski, LPC, a therapist in Pennsylvania, says that while she’s available to clients for urgent needs, she otherwise keeps work tasks within her work hours. She also recommends keeping work email off your personal cell phone. 

Supervisors should emphasize learning boundaries in therapy to set new therapists up for a healthy career, says J. Yankie Greenberger, LCSW CSAT, an addiction and trauma group practice owner in Chicago. “Maintaining specific work hours and professional limits with clients is crucial to avoid burnout,” he says. 

Schedule personal priorities to avoid burnout

Dobrzynski makes time in her personal schedule by adding them to her calendar. “I prioritize my non-work time to include a balance of family time, faith practice, socializing, exercising, creating, reading and other restorative practices,” she says.

Take your own therapy advice

No doubt thoughts about work interfere with your personal time. Dobrzynski recommends using the same therapy modalities you recommend to your clients, such as cognitive behavior therapy. “I have to catch my thoughts sometimes and bring my attention back to the present moment to truly reap the benefits of restorative activities,” says Dobrzynski. 

Build breathing room into your workday

Leslie admits that many new therapists have little choice but to see clients back-to-back. Still, she says, “Carve out a time for lunch, a walk, a quick yoga flow or something that feels restorative.”

Greenberger says he recharges during the work day by taking a 5-10 minute power nap between sessions or burning energy by pacing around the office. 

Dobrzynski says strategic scheduling can go a long way in keeping her strong and healthy when it comes to vicarious trauma. “If I have breaks and transition opportunities during the day and have plenty of off time after work hours, it doesn’t impact me as much,” she says.

Throughout the workday, it’s important to take moments for mindfulness in a way that works for you. Dobrzynski says this helps her stay present with a client without taking on their trauma. “Sometimes after a session, I need to step out, get fresh air, move my body or shake it off,” she says.

Build a professional support network of therapists

Greenberger recommends leaning on a network of colleagues, such as other therapists, graduate school friends and old supervisors, to help manage difficult cases. “I love catching some associates between sessions to quickly debrief from a difficult or heavy session. Having a supportive work environment where open communication is encouraged makes a big difference in reducing stress and boosting job satisfaction,” he says.

Leslie says a consultation group of peers can be a place to get support and help when you’re feeling stuck with a client or have professional questions and ethical dilemmas. “I have a monthly consultation group of therapists, and I do not know what I would do without their support. Our work can be isolating, so it’s wonderful to have a network of professionals who can support you and relate,” she says.

Find inspiration and growth from professional development

While continuing education is an annual requirement for therapists, Greenberger says it’s a way to reignite passion for the work. Learning something new, like a new modality or tool, is an important way to keep growing as a therapist. 

Olga Kilstein, PsyD, a group practice owner in Chicago, recommends diversifying your workload to pursue opportunities outside therapy sessions, such as teaching, community seminars, support groups, consulting and writing. “As mental health professionals, we can do many different things. It’s helped me to broaden my activities from therapy to teaching and community engagement, which have created a very meaningful professional life.”

Find time for fun

Healthy levity goes a long way to prevent burnout, says Greenberger. He recommends making time to be silly with friends and family. 

Having your own therapist is crucial

The stress of the job as a therapist is already heavy. Add to that the personal stress of any human, and the burden can become too difficult to carry. Having your own therapist to lean on can help. 

Greenberger says therapists should embrace openness and transparency among therapists today who often talk about their own therapy. “This was not the case early in my career. Working your own stress out with a therapist can never be beneath you as a therapist,” he says. 

Kilstein says checking in with a therapist for mental health support can help therapists avoid burnout. “Talking to another mental health professional can provide formal and informal consultation and help identify early signs of burnout and other mental health concerns.”

Still, says Dobrzynski, most therapists are likely to continue thinking about work, even outside of client sessions. “I am always thinking of my clients’ experiences and hoping for the best for them. It just comes with the territory,” she says.

Knowing that underscores the importance of intentionally implementing self-care strategies and creating supportive work environments. With effort and support, mental health professionals can protect their well-being and continue providing essential care.

Click here to learn more about mental health worker liability insurance tailored to your practice needs. Designed to protect your assets, license and reputation, CM&F’s superior professional liability insurance brings peace of mind to mental health workers.

Get the Coverage You Need In Just 5 Minutes

  • A++ Rated & 4.8/5 Satisfaction Rating
  • Competitive Rates, Comprehensive Coverage
  • Excellent, Live Customer Service
  • Quick, Easy, Quote – No Hidden Fees
  • Coverage & Documents Available Immediately

We have protected healthcare professionals for over 100 years. Are you protected?

Sign-Up For Our Newsletter

Related Articles