Are you taking good care of yourself?

At holiday time and throughout the year, psychologists are attentive to perceiving spikes in clients' stress levels. But are you as mindful when your own stress increases?

by Practice Research and Policy Staff

December 13, 2007 — This time of year, the media devotes much coverage to holiday stress. The focus tends to be on factors that boost stress levels for many people during the holidays, along with pointers for coping. Psychologists are attentive to perceiving spikes in their clients’ stress levels, but are they as mindful when their own stress increases?

Functioning in the role of helper may keep some psychologists far more focused on their clients than on their own well-being. Yet practitioners who do not engage in appropriate self-care increase their risk for occupational stress and distress, which may eventually lead to impairment. The need for self-care is not limited to holidays or any other particular time of the year.

To aid the process of self-care, the APA Board of Professional Affairs’ Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance offers the following recommendations:

  • Make personal and professional self-care a priority.

  • Honestly assess your emotional, psychological and spiritual health on a regular basis.

  • Take occupational risks seriously, and be aware of the particular risks facing practicing psychologists. You may find it helpful to educate yourself more fully about topics such as professional burnout, vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue and colleague assistance. Incorporate such learning into your professional training and continuing education.

  • Make appropriate accommodations or adjustments – such as limiting your caseload or consulting with peers and experts – in light of professional stressors and risks that you are experiencing.

  • Identify sources of support and use them. Avoid isolation.

  • Make and maintain professional connections that include the opportunity to discuss the specific nature and stressors of your work.

  • Pay attention to the need for balance in work, rest and play. Take regular vacations or other appropriate breaks from work. The therapist is the fundamental “tool” of psychotherapy, and you need to keep yourself sharp.

  • Develop realistic and reasonable expectations about workload and your capabilities at any given time.

  • Pursue opportunities for intellectual stimulation inside and outside of the profession.

  • Monitor carefully the substances and/or processes you use for relaxation or entertainment.

  • Challenge assumptions that stigmatize or disparage psychologists who acknowledge experiences of pain, distress or impairment.

  • Seek consultation when professionally or personally challenged.

The APA Advisory Committee for Colleague Assistance has developed additional self-care materials targeted to practitioners.