How to Avoid Therapist Burnout in 5 Daily Steps

Written by Howard Spector on August 22, 2016

How to dig yourself out of therapist burnout and back into the job you love!

It’s Wednesday morning, and you’re thinking about some past-due client invoices and a conference next week, when all of a sudden your client interrupts to ask if you’ve been listening to him. Sadly, this isn’t the first time you’ve found yourself daydreaming in a session. You’re suffering from therapist burnout, and you need to find a way to shake it off—and fast.

The tough part is that you love what you do. It’s just that lately you’ve found yourself getting distracted more often than feeling engaged. So, what is there to do?

First, understand that you’re not alone. It’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed or exhausted when you’re constantly exposed to and absorbing the emotions of other people. Even the best-intentioned practitioners with the strongest defense of self-care feel beaten down sometimes.

Why does therapist burnout happen? The term burnout was first coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. It is composed of three components: loss of empathy, decreased sense of accomplishment, and feeling emotionally exhausted. The intensity of the feeling can stem from a simple dissatisfaction to a major meltdown that needs professional help.

Therapist burnout often begins with a practitioner’s best intentions. It’s easy to overwork when you care for the well-being of your clients. Though, eventually, with a full client load, all that extra work and worry can overwhelm.

Here are some common signs of therapist burnout:

  • Feeling relieved when clients cancel
  • Starting sessions late or ending them early
  • Finding yourself not paying attention when clients speak
  • Feeling as if you need to drag yourself into work every day
  • Forcing your theory or technique instead of adapting to a client’s wishes
  • Feeling a decline in empathy
  • Experiencing disturbed sleep
  • Noticing blurred boundaries with clients

If you’ve identified with any of these signs, it’s time to reset and recharge. If you need a big change, clear a block of your schedule in the not-so-distant future and take a vacation. It doesn’t matter if you island-hop the Caribbean or plan a camping trip in your backyard. Just take some time for yourself, and by all means, don’t check on work while you’re out. When you get back, start off small.

There are other, smaller, ways you can make changes if you’re suffering from therapist burnout. Lessen your case load, or adjust your scheduling so that you’ll have shorter work days or longer spaces between clients, whichever suits your needs best.

Once you’re feeling back to yourself again, you still need to take steps to prevent burnout. The following are five ways you can avoid burnout on a daily basis.


03-how-to-avoid-therapist-burnout-in-5-daily-steps1. Don’t take work home.
After a long day of work, sometimes it’s easier to close down the office and bring the paperwork home to finish after dinner. That’s fine every once in a while, but if you find yourself consistently working from home or tied to your pager or work cell, you’re never giving yourself the downtime you deserve.

2. Ask for help. The best thing about a mentor or a clinical supervisor is that he or she can provide guidance when you’re working with clients all day long. If you work in a solo practice, you’re at a higher risk of isolation. Contact other individual therapists in your area to form a peer support group, or consider finding a therapist for yourself to talk things out.


02-how-to-avoid-therapist-burnout-in-5-daily-steps3. Adjust your schedule.
The way you plan your day may be part of therapist burnout. Are you scheduling sessions without room for lunch or breaks? Are two demanding clients always scheduled back-to-back? Leave space to decompress, eat a healthy meal, practice a hobby, and complete administrative duties. On that note, don’t procrastinate; it only leads to bundles of stress later in the week.

4. Model self-care. To avoid therapist burnout, you need to be able to meet your needs first before you can be there for your clients.  Eat healthy meals throughout the day. Also, “feed” your emotional needs, too. Spend time with people who don’t expect that you’ll solve their problems for them. It doesn’t matter whether this is accomplished by joining a running group or attending a crafting class. Make it a point to stay engaged with the things that interest you outside of work.


01-how-to-avoid-therapist-burnout-in-5-daily-steps5. Do something physical.
 Use the ten minutes between clients to stretch, walk around your office, or rehydrate with water. If you can’t find time in your caseload, make it. Schedule a half-hour break in the middle of your day to decompress.

Here’s another way you can help yourself. Choose practice management software that will work on your behalf and reduce the number of hats you have to wear. SimplePractice can help you tip the scale and give you more of your life back.

SimplePractice user Karen Allen (MS, LMHC, CHt, CAMS) says, “SimplePractice has given me more personal time, made my records accessible anywhere I travel, allows me to generate statements with the click of a button, and reminds me if I missed entering a note. It was easy to learn how to use.” Try out SimplePractice today for free—no credit card required.

Have you ever dealt with therapist burnout before? What tips would you share with your peers to get motivated again? Let us know in the comments.

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About the Author

Howard is the CEO and Co-founder of SimplePractice. Howard has over 20 years of experience in the information technology industry. He is proud to have earned his MA in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

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