Episode 138 Self-Care Strategies For Mental Health Therapists | Nurturing Your Well-Being: Solo Episode By Chris McDonald

Aug 18, 2023

How can you be a more effective practitioner by prioritizing self-care? What are some self-care strategies that are specific for mental health therapists that you can begin utilizing today?


  • Why do you need to prioritize self-care as a therapist? 2:00

Why Do You Need To Prioritize Self-Care As A Therapist?

  • The impact of vicarious trauma on Therapists and what is compassion fatigue
  • The importance of finding personalized self-care
  • Incorporating breathwork into your daily routine
  • The importance of self-awareness and understanding what our bodies need
  • How to incorporate journaling into your daily practice
  • What is Silent Meditation
  • How to set boundaries 

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Chris McDonald: In today's solo episode, Self Care Strategies for Mental Health Therapists, How to Nurture Your Well Being, I'll address the unique challenges we face as therapists, including the emotional toll of holding space for our client's pain, the ever present risk of burnout, and the necessity of setting healthy boundaries.

I'll discuss an array of empowering self care strategies to help you cultivate resilience and enhance your emotional well being. I will explore with you a spectrum of practices that can rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. Join me on this insightful journey to help you tap into self care strategies on today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast.

This is Holistic Counseling, the podcast for mental health therapists who want to deepen their knowledge of holistic modalities and build their practice with confidence. I'm your host, Chris McDonald, Licensed Therapist. I am so glad you're here for the journey.

Welcome to this episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. Do you struggle to integrate self care on a daily basis and find yourself with no energy and nothing left to give to yourself? In this episode, I address the unique challenges that mental health therapists face in the profession, such as emotional exhaustion, burnout, compassion fatigue.

I'll also explore the importance of prioritizing self care and maintaining your well being to ensure that you can provide the best care for your clients. This is a solo episode, so let's jump right in. So I want to welcome you to this episode and I appreciate that you're sticking around because I know a lot of times we want to put self care on the back burner and it's easy to get caught up in everyday life and our busy practices and keeping up with referrals and new clients, insurance issues, paperwork notes, I get it.

I'm there every day too. I hear you. It is a challenge. But in addition to the back end of all that we do, we also face the emotional toll of listening to clients struggle day in, day out. And if you treat trauma, that's a whole other episode because that can really wear you down and also increases the impact that you may experience vicarious trauma, just hearing these stories over and over and especially sometimes, and you know what I'm talking about, you get some of these clients trauma that really breaks your heart.

And really causes you to struggle and it keeps repeating over and over in your mind. And that's when it can become vicarious trauma if you have some PTSD like symptoms after. And that's when you need to see your own therapist for that. So we all are at risk for that because we never know, especially new clients, what can come up


Chris McDonald: the clients we're already seeing that may come up with a trauma that we didn't know happened in their background.

And sometimes throw us off guard. And even though we keep our counselor face on, and you know you have one, that we are inside like, whoa, I cannot believe this. And sometimes I know for me listening to how awful our clients are treated and how can one human being treat up one another so poorly. It is heartbreaking.

So it is almost setting up, going back to it again, boundaries. I know I talk about that in my training, uh, holistic self care boundaries for therapists, which we'll have in the show notes, that boundaries are so essential because we cannot get overly emotionally involved. And how do you know if you're getting too involved?

If you're having trouble letting it go at the end of the day. the end of the week and they're still in your mind, you're still thinking about it and having trouble disconnecting, that's a sign that you might need to talk to someone, another therapist about that or a colleague as a consultation to see what you should do.

Because that means it's really overlapping the boundary for you. And then compassion fatigue, when we lack the empathy, when we just don't have anything left. There's no gas in the gas tank anymore. We're just emotionally, physically, spiritually, everything energetically exhausted, nothing left to give.

That's how you may feel with compassion fatigue. And so you have to regroup if you're experiencing that or a burnout. I didn't talk about that. So if you feel like I cannot add another client to my day, I cannot do one more thing. And just almost that skepticism about mental health that what I do doesn't matter.

This is all nothing about what I'm doing. This doesn't matter what I do. And it could be burnout that you're experiencing. And again, these all impact us in so many ways. Um, body, mind and spirit, but I think just keeping that awareness has a mental health therapist is the first step. And of course we cannot fix a lot of systems issues.

So if you work for a school system, a hospital, a residential facility, an IOP that I know can be even more challenging because you are not in control of policies and procedures, which can. lead you to feeling overwhelmed, taking on too many cases, not being able to find that balance, and oftentimes not being paid what you're worth.

If you're not in private practice, which even in private practice we could have down times, we could have times that we lose a lot of clients or we're just starting out, and it can take some time to get rolling, to get consistent income and referrals. And we try and we try and it can be a struggle. So we're not going to talk about the systems issues.

I know that's a whole other episode, but let's talk about the importance of self care. Self care is an ethical imperative. It's part of our ethical principles that we have to take care of ourselves in order to provide the best service for our clients, in order to be most effective. And it is a necessity to care for ourselves.

personally, not just for our clients, of course, because we want to be there for ourselves. So we want to be healthy mind, body, spirit, but also for our families. We want to have the energy to spend time with our partners, our children, our grandchildren, our animals, and not just be. a lump at the end of the day and have nothing to give to them and nothing for ourselves.

To have that extreme low motivation to do anything of worth for ourselves is not where we want to be. And this is not to blame therapists that you're not doing enough self care because again, there can be multitude of factors impacting that. But just having that realization that this is so important and a, and a priority that we have to give ourselves, and it's not selfish, it is being self full.

So giving, filling ourselves up so we can be the best that who we can be in sessions and personally, how do we do this? Right? We all have busy schedules and I know some people have more than one job or you're still in school, maybe. And maybe you're trying to create alternate streams of revenue like I'm doing.

That really can put a damper on self care as you're trying to juggle. Keep all the balls in the air. Professionally and then of course personally. If you're dealing with taking care of aged parents, I know a lot of people in my generation, I'm in my 50s and that's coming up a lot with parents that have health issues.

and trying to help them out, sometimes assisting financially or physically having to be there more, and some at the same time still raising children. It can be a lot. It can just feel like you're pulled in every direction and when do you have time for you? And that's the challenge, isn't it? So I think just shifting thinking as a therapist.

That this is a necessity in order for me to give what I want to give in this profession, to make sure I'm doing what I need to do to take care of myself. And you've probably heard this before. It's not just massages and pedicures. True. Those are great though, to have those, but it is more than you think.

I think one thing I want you to remember is that self care is not just one size fits all. Thinking about what works for you in your, your schedule, can you find crumbs of time during your day to take care of yourself, to take a break, allow the breathing room and just do five minutes of breath work or a five minute meditation and get away from the all and unthinking that I have to do 30 minutes in order for it to be effective or forget it, I'm not doing it.

Let's, Let's give those little nuggets, because the nuggets add up into physiological changes. We're changing our brains by doing these things. We're filling ourselves full. But also looking at all of your needs, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and where you might be lacking. So if we look at physical for yourself, I know for me, I have to do some movement every day.

Even if it's just stretching for a little while, doing some balance exercises like tree pose, or just walking around my backyard, feeling in my body can help a lot, or this morning I went for a walk and it just really boosted my energy, really wakes you up when you do that first thing in the morning.

Allowing yourself time for that, and when you have control of your schedule, like for those in private practices, I know it's a bit easier because I create my schedule around my physical exercise. So I allow time in the morning for movement. I do. Weights and cardio a couple of days a week. Also allowing time to walk when needed.

So again, sometimes it's only a 15 minute walk, that's okay. At least I'm moving. And eco counseling, getting out into nature, going for those hikes that you're putting off. And if you have a family, bring in them as well. Everyone needs to be more out in nature and to feel the sunshine and that I think that can help too with being more mindful when we're out of our indoor space, give more breathing room, especially if you can see beautiful things like a waterfall or just being around trees and flowers.

I went to a sunflower field yesterday and I gotta tell you that just. rejuvenated me. I was kind of feeling restless and a little anxious with the week coming. And, you know, it was like five o'clock on a Sunday. I'm like, you know what, let me just go. Even though it was hot summer, North Carolina, it was wonderful.

And it just, it really helped me to be in the moment to be more present. And I think for you just finding when can I be in the moment more and what do I need to do? to do that. Can I check ins with myself daily? And this is something I teach my clients as well. Let me check in three times a day. So it could be in the morning when you get up, lunchtime, and maybe at the end of the day and do a quick body scan.

So just noticing from head to toe, how are you doing? Noticing any tension, checking in with your energy, noticing your breath. Is it more shallow breath or deeper breaths or somewhere in the middle? Noticing any pain in the body and just tuning into any emotion that's come up. Or is there more than one emotion?

Where are you during those breaks? And I'm not talking 30 minutes, I'm talking one minute, chicken. And then just asking that question, What do I need right now? But give space. See what comes up and allow it to come up. And follow through to what you gotta do to take care of you. Even if it is just laying down for a minute.

And of course I know you have a session, so you can't always do that. But just connecting when you can and doing those things that your body needs. Maybe it's eating more. I know a lot of us don't eat enough, especially women. If you're concerned about weight and size, calories, you may limit and restrict.

Or you think you're eating enough, but then when you actually track it, you're not. And that can definitely impact your thought process, your ability to concentrate, your ability to be present, and your energy level, of course, can also cause irritability if you're not eating enough. So really making sure physically you're doing all these things.

as best you can. And if it's too much to take it all in at once, then don't. Do what you can. Even just start with taking breaks, those three times a day. Putting reminders on your phone or some other alarm to tell yourself. And maybe those can be a natural rhythm of your routine, that once you sit down at the end of the day and your client leaves, if you're in person, or you shut down your computer, that's your moment, right?

That can be the association to check in with yourself. and see what you need. And again, being careful not to suppress what comes up. Because a lot of times our intuition, connection with spirit, or whatever you believe is out there, we suppress that, right? Society teaches us not to listen, or parents, or whatever.

But just being open to what may, messages may come to you, whatever downloads are out there. And then we got emotional. Supporting your own emotional health. One thing that I started a couple months ago was just short journaling before bed. And this could be just using some prompts. And I have this gratitude journal that's pretty awesome.

And it already has the same prompts every day, which is kind of nice. I tried doing different prompts daily, but it kind of got on my nerves. And some didn't connect. I didn't connect with. So I like knowing what to expect. So it's what I'm grateful for. What did I accomplish today? What went well? What would make tomorrow great?

It only has two lines. That's what I love. Maybe three. at the most. And what is an affirmation for myself? And you know what's fun is to as I go back and look over these short journaling entries that I can really help myself on difficult days to these are affirmations that I wrote for myself so I can connect to them more.

So think about, what is a short journaling practice that you could try? You could use some of those questions I just mentioned, or maybe you have some other ones. Maybe just one question, the grateful question, what am I grateful for? That is all. Or, what do I need to let go of? What is holding me back from my full potential?

I think as therapists, we all need those moments of self reflection to really connect to our emotional side, to see what's there, to see what we need. to let go of or process sometimes, just to process sometimes all that we are listening and opening up to with clients. And I think another emotional strategy is finding activities that are outside the counseling realm that just put you in your body and just allow you to ground and center.

This could be bike riding. I know a lot of people are playing pickleball. I'm doing standup paddleboard in the summer, which I love so much. I wish I could do it more. But I am nowhere else when I am doing stand up paddle where I am on the water. I am with the water, with my board, and just in my body, exercising, feeling the smoothness of the water beneath me, smelling the fresh air, seeing the birds above, the trees on the shore, and then just laying down on my board and floating.

I don't know about you, but something about floating on water is so soothing. Sometimes trying the float spot. I haven't tried that yet. And I heard that's an amazing thing to do. I believe you just go in these little pods and just float because I'm wondering if that could help you get into the present moment.

For those located in North Carolina, I know there are some float spas in the area. I'm thinking they're all around the US and maybe some other countries as well. What about mental? We can have a lot going through our minds in one day. We have to stay focused and a lot of clinical judgments. And some, some clients, again, I'm going to say it again, they stick with us, don't they?

Or we come across some issues we've never treated before and we're not. sure what to do, and this can cause sometimes anxiety to come up as well as feeling incompetent or another therapist would know what to do or say, when in fact, it could be, we have no experience with this issue, so let's give ourselves some grace.

Is this something to refer out or is this something the client even wants to work on? I had that happen to me recently. I was going to refer out this client who wanted to work on, um, some serious attachment issues. I am not trained in that. I only know a little bit, can talk intelligently about it, but that is not my area of expertise.

But it was funny because the client's like, nah, I don't want to go too deep with that. So I'm good working on what we're doing. So sometimes just. Allowing that space and the client was willing to work on that on their own as well. They were working on their own course with that. So there can be other ways that it can work out.

It doesn't mean that you lose clients just because you're not trained in something. Seeing what you offer and being open with them. So two things I'm going to mention for therapists as far as mental self care. First one is sitting in silence. What I've been doing recently is doing more silent meditation.

Or just sitting in silence and not even calling it meditation, just taking a moment, even at the end of the day and just sitting in silence. So I'm not listening to anyone anymore. Even that mindful moment of just listening to any sounds in the room. What do you hear? Do you hear the clock ticking? Do you hear the air conditioner coming on or the heat?

Do you hear people walking by outside your room? Or do you hear people mowing the lawn outside? Birds going by, because if you struggle with silence, like with silent meditation, just start with what do I hear first, and that can really help you dive into externally what's going on before you go internally.

So sitting in silence was one for mental. Quiet meditation is two. I've been meditating for many years, have done a combination of both guided and silent meditation. Unfortunately, the past few years, I've gotten away from silent, quiet meditation and have done guided, which there's no shame. There is no judgment.

If you only want to do guided, that is cool. But I will say, like I said, the past couple of weeks, I've been doing more quiet, silent meditation. I have noticed a profound shift in myself and my whole, I don't know if it's vibrationally, I have felt moments of more happiness and joy than I have felt in years.

And I was trying to figure out like, wow, what, where is this coming from? What did I do different? And honestly. The only thing I did different was allow myself time for some silent meditation. And this wasn't every single day. There are some days I would do more guided or I didn't really get a chance to do meditation and that's okay.

I'm going to throw the grace card down. I do meditation. just about every day. So it's okay if I miss a day. But there's something about that being a safety cue. If we talk about polyvagal theory for our nervous system, that we have safety cues and danger cues. So safety cues can be those things that can settle your nervous system, turn on that parasympathetic, calm down the sympathetic fight or flight response.

And for me, what I've learned through this process is my nervous system, which can be more anxious, more in the fight or flight. More easily, I get overwhelmed more easily, more highly sensitive, you could say. I need that silence for my mental health, for my overall well being. And I think it's too in this job, just interacting with people all day long, taking those moments of silence can make such a huge difference.

So just, just consider that. How can I get more body, more in the mental self care of sitting in silence or quiet meditation? And I wanted to get to boundaries before I end this solo episode. Here are some things I've noticed through the years as I've provided therapy for therapists and worked with a lot of therapists and workshops.

Setting boundaries. is key to upleveling your self care. And what do I mean by that? I see a lot of things that gets therapists in trouble. First one is overscheduling. So trying to see too many clients in one day and not allowing time for your own self care and downtime. That will get you close to burnout quicker than anything else.

And of course, compassion fatigue too. Uh, not charging clients for no shows or late cancels. We all have compassion and big hearts, but this can impact us financially big time. We have to be on it with our clients, especially if you're in private practice. I know it doesn't matter for those that work for someone, but if You are in that position that it does come down to you whether you charge or not to really be clear on what the policy is with clients and if they want to change what one thing I learned recently from Facebook groups for therapist was if a client comes in late and says, Oh, I can only do a 30 minute session, then you charge them the late cancel fee.

I didn't realize this, that people do that because we lose money. Right? I've had several people doing that recently. So it is keeping them accountable as well. And knowing when they sign up for a time and only want partial session, that impacts you and your overall financial well being. I know it's hard to do, but you have to start to develop that strength inside, that internal resilience that you matter, just like your clients matter.

And we can't give in to every time they cancel. Or if they're canceling frequently, that's an issue too. Also. Being careful who you take on in your practice. So if you have certain clients that drain you, that their energy attaches, and you feel severely depressed after, or you're just not vibing with them for some reason, consider referring out because it may not be best for both of you.

I know I've had this happen before that I had a client that was like, you know what, I just don't think this is going well for me. I'm just not feeling the connection to you. And I was like, I'm feeling similar. We both felt it, but it took her to say it, which wasn't right. I should have spoken up as a therapist, but the good news is that I referred her to someone I think that would be more beneficial for her.

So just keep that in mind that we don't have to work with every single person. And I understand the finances too with private practice, but you want to work with the. the clients that are most suited to you, that you can most help. That's really going to help you the most. And one last thing about boundaries that a lot of people don't talk about is energetic boundaries, as far as clearing space in your office and clearing your emotional and energetic body.

So negative energy that may come in our own, but other people's. that may attach to us. So being able to find ways to clear your energy, and you can do this in a number of ways. Using crystals, you can use some black tourmaline in your office, um, being able to use some white quartz. I use it as a wand and just kind of like my energetic body.

I use it and just slide it over. my arms and legs and torso clearing out energy and then put it in the sun to clear it out. You can also use essential oils. There's so many different ways to clear that energetic energy in your bodies. And just saying in your mind, I let go of any energy that's not mine.

And send them loving kindness as well. So you're not just rejecting the energy, you're sending them something beautiful as well. So just keeping that in mind. I hope this episode was helpful. I know we could go for hours and have a whole workshop on this, of course. And like I said, if you're interested in my holistic self care for boundaries workshop, I do have that available and you do get continue ed on that one credit.

You can see that in the show notes. And I do want to let you know about my Self Care for the Counselor book. And just real quick, I'm actually creating a workbook as we speak as I'm recording this in July 2023. So hopefully that'll be out before the end of the year. But if you want something now, I have a book for you because you are not alone if you struggle with self care.

Most counselors find it difficult to find time for self care practices. My book, Self Care for the Counselor, was written just for you. It's an easy to read book that you will find it jam packed with holistic strategies to help create consistent practices and help you find balance and the renewed energy you need.

Go to hcpodcast. org forward slash self care. That's hcpodcast. org forward slash self care. Check it out today. And again, this is Chris McDonald sending each one of you much light and love till next time. Take care of yourself. The information in this podcast is for general educational purposes only and is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guest are giving legal, financial, counseling, or any other kind of professional advice.

If you need a professional, please find the right one for you.

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Self-Care for the Counselor - a holistic guide for helping professionals by Christine McDonald , MS,NCC,LPCS