Why is Self Care Important for Mental Health Practitioners?

Written by Howard Spector on October 24, 2016

Why is self-care important when you’re the counselor, not the client?

Your clients may ask you, “Why is self-care important?” It may be tough for them to understand how (or why) to prioritize relaxation and being kind to themselves when all they want is to dive headfirst into healing. They’ve experienced severe pain and trauma and learning self-care techniques may not feel like a priority. The want drastic changes, not day-to-day refreshers.

You, on the other hand, know how essential self-care is to holistic health and well-being. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to put into practice.

01-why-is-self-care-importan-for-mental-health-practitionersWhy is self-care important? Your ethical code requires it.

Found in every association’s ethical code is a statement that requires counselors to monitor their personal well-being while treating clients. For counselors to be at their best – and provide the best care to their clients – it’s imperative they take care of themselves first.

In the Introduction of Section C of the American Counselors Association’s Code of Ethics, it states, “Counselors engage in self-care activities to maintain and promote their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being to best meet their professional responsibilities.”

Some associations go further to explain how a counselor should proceed if they are unable to continue treating patients. According to the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct standard 2.06(a&b):

“Psychologists refrain from initiating an activity when they know or should know that there is a substantial likelihood that their personal problems will prevent them from performing their work-related activities in a competent manner. When psychologists become aware of personal problems that may interfere with their performing work-related duties adequately, they take appropriate measures, such as obtaining professional consultation or assistance and determine whether they should limit, suspend or terminate their work-related duties.”

Section 4.05 b of the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, states:

“Social workers whose personal problems, psychosocial distress, legal problems, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties interfere with their professional judgment and performance should immediately seek consultation and take appropriate remedial action by seeking professional help, making adjustments in workload, terminating practice, or taking any other steps necessary to protect clients and others.”

Why is self-care important? It prevents compassion fatigue

Regardless of whether self-care is deemed vital to counselors by their governing associations, it’s also essential for personal well-being! After listening to the trauma or stressors of client after client, it’s tough not to feel fatigued by the emotional baggage they carry (and figuratively drop at your feet). It’s necessary to find outlets to relieve any anxieties or feelings you absorb from your clientele, so that you don’t develop compassion fatigue, or begin to feel burned out.

As a therapist, it’s important to start every session with the same passion and drive as your first day on the job. You can only do that if you’re in your best emotional shape. Here are three easy-to-implement self-care tips you can put into practice immediately to feel your best.

Meditate, breathe and repeat

Self-care requires that you engage both your mind and your body. However, it can be tough to activate both – and at the same time – on a day full of back-to-back sessions. Carve out time for yourself, and schedule moments to meditate and practice intentional breathing throughout your busy day. Download an app on your phone for a two-minute relaxation and reframing session between clients.

For the times you need a bigger burst of calm, include a ten-minute meditation after lunch, followed by a short pranayama practice of Sama Vritti. If you’re new to breathing exercises, here’s a great video to guide you.

02-why-is-self-care-importan-for-mental-health-practitionersPractice affirmations

Motivational author Louise Hay says, “Every thought you think and every word you speak is an affirmation…You’re using affirmations every moment whether you know it or not.” Create a list of self-care affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout the day in between sessions. Print it out and read them out loud to remind yourself how capable, strong, intelligent, kind, and patient you are.

Start right now by saying this out loud: “I am filled with good will for myself and for others.”

03-why-is-self-care-importan-for-mental-health-practitionersCreate a sunshine file

While it may be unethical to solicit testimonials from your clients, there’s a good chance over time that you’ll receive letters of thanks or notes of praise. Don’t read and recycle these kind words. Keep a file of all the nice things people say about you, whether it’s a note from a happy past client or a nice write up about your private practice in the local newspaper. Look through it when you’re having a tough day. Sometimes, all you need is a reminder of what you’ve achieved and who you’ve helped to brighten your spirits.

If you’re looking for more ways to practice self-care, here are ten more options you can do in ten minutes or fewer.

When you regularly practice self-care, you’ll feel calmer, more centered, and better capable of guiding your clients. Let us guide you through your billing, appointment scheduling, and more with our streamlined practice management system. Try it free for 30 days.

What other tips do you have for therapist self-care that have worked for you in the past? Share your wealth of knowledge 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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