How to Take Care of Yourself Like a Therapist

Therapists' personal strategies for coping in a new age of digital distance.

Posted Jul 31, 2020

 Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

We’re all in this together, and that’s never been truer for the mental health community in the midst of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic— especially in a unique moment in which patients and therapists are facing the same crisis simultaneously.

In fact, a survey of 1,895 U.S. adults found that 72 percent of Americans believed that they would hit a mental ‘breaking point’ if stay-at-home orders continued into June. Given that the stress of COVID-19 and reduced opportunity/capacity for normal daily life is still present in August, this has heightened mental health issues for many.

As more people are looking to the mental health community for help, it is also important to consider how therapists are coping with the challenges that COVID has produced. Equally important is how they are managing their stress as they respond to the burgeoning needs of their clients and community.  

We polled colleagues at the Menninger Clinic on this topic and the following insights are a result of those conversations:

  • Increased Importance of Verbal Communication:  Therapists agree, what's missing most in this newly configured world is connectedness. Sessions have suddenly and seismically shifted to virtual therapy in order to provide clients continued access to treatment. While this is currently the safest option, the lack of actual face-to-face contact and absence of gestures make it challenging for therapists to pick up on subtle cues that would – in a traditional setting - be easier to observe. As a result, therapists are emphasizing techniques that focus on verbal communication. For both client and patient – especially during this challenging time - developing a good rapport and a comfortable virtual safe space for therapeutic conversation is very important.
  • Helping Clients Adapt:  Imagine having marital problems and trying to explain a distressing argument to your therapist, along with sharing your feelings and viewpoint, all while your spouse is in the next room? Therapists are finding creative ways to reduce anxiety for clients in these situations by encouraging them to attend sessions in other safe settings such as on a walk, at a park or inside of their parked car.

How Therapists are Managing

As the world pushes through stressful year, none of us is immune from the substantial mental burden of social isolation, including therapists. With that said, who better than therapists to offer guidance as we reset day-to-day life?

  • Practice Patience:  As we learn new ways to function, we must be patient and allow ourselves to feel certain emotions - and listen to them. If that emotion is fear or guilt, then we know we are not comfortable with that action. If going to eat at a restaurant stirs up feelings of fear, understand that we can reevaluate our decision and pick up food curbside. 
  • Maintain Connections:  Social distancing does not mean social or professional isolation. It is vital for everyone to continue to talk with friends and colleagues, share challenging cases and success stories, and discuss general emotional support with family and friends.
  • Maintain structure:  It can be beneficial to keep a routine but recognizing when changes to that routine might offer a healthier balance is important. Consider a midday walk with family members for a healthy break in your workday and a way to sustain a satisfactory work/life balance. If your pre-pandemic life including leaving your office at a certain time every day, then consider maintaining that practice – finish up and move to a different area of your home or go outside for fresh air or exercise. 
  • Self-Compassion:  Often, we expect ourselves to handle things a certain way or hold ourselves to unobtainable standards. It is important to recognize that this is an unprecedented event and we are all doing the best we can. Be sure to give yourself the grace you would give others or your patients.

Just like many of Americans who are working remotely and facing challenges of this new virtual world, mental health professionals can empathize - from the pitfalls of virtual meetings to the lack of structure in a day. Take a note from therapists and learn to cut yourself some slack, get creative on ways to stay connected and understand that some changes can be healthy as we learn to navigate this new and uncharted territory in our lives. 

About the Author: 

 The Menninger Clinic
Source: The Menninger Clinic

Robyn Martin, MS, LPC-S is a staff therapist with more than ten years of professional experience. She works at Menninger’s Outpatient Assessment department and as an outpatient therapist. Robyn sees patients of all ages with a varying presenting problems. She has specialized training in play therapy as well as the Child Attachment Interview. She became a licensed professional counselor supervisor in 2018 and enjoys teaching and sharing with new therapists.