Survey findings emphasize the importance of self care for psychologists

ACCA urges psychologists to address their stress to continue functioning at their professional best

by Practice Research & Policy Staff

August 31, 2010 — An overly challenging work-life balance and dealing with insurance and managed care topped the list of members’ stressors in a recent American Psychological Association (APA) survey. And while psychologists are trained to help patients cope with life’s ups and downs, some psychologists appear at risk of disregarding their own stress levels until they could prove damaging to their health and practices.

Diane L. Bridgeman, PhD, Chair, APA Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance (ACCA),  and Daniel I. Galper, PhD, Director, Research & Special Projects, Practice Research & Policy, Practice Directorate, presented the findings of the Colleague Assistance and Wellness Survey at the APA convention in San Diego during a symposium entitled, “Listening to Our Colleagues — 2010 APA Practice Survey Results: Worries, Wellness, and Wisdom.”

A majority of those surveyed (51 percent) reported currently experiencing some challenge or challenges that impacted their professional functioning. These ranged from personal issues and concerns such as loss of a family member to professional stressors including dealing with insurance companies and managed care. Despite experiencing a range of challenges, not all psychologists reported engaging in specific activities to facilitate their coping.  The top perceived barriers to self-care activities or the use of colleague assistance programs (CAP) by the 658 practitioners who responded to the survey included lack of time (61 percent), minimization or denial of issues (43 percent) and privacy or confidentiality concerns (43 percent).

According to ACCA, most individuals experience some stress over the course of their lives and those who proactively address their stress and develop new coping strategies or change existing patterns to result in less stress are more likely to continue functioning at their professional best with no impact on their patients or clients. Additionally, seeking support and assistance before stress accumulates and leads to problematic professional behavior or impaired functioning is preferable for the psychologist and all those s/he serves.

Doctors Bridgeman and Galper emphasized the importance of self-care, including acknowledging the need for support and accessing it, in maintaining optimal wellness. The factors most frequently reported by those surveyed to greatly enhance well-being included taking time for self (63 percent), taking time off from work or vacationing (63 percent) and having financial security (61 percent).

Bridgeman shared that fewer than half of the 60 state and provincial psychological associations provide a colleague assistance committee. ACCA’s 2010 compendium of references and resources (PDF, 104 KB) includes resources on beginning and sustaining a CAP, as well as references on psychologist self-care and support and resources about challenges specific to various subgroups of psychologists, such as the impact of gender or sexual orientation on professional practice. 

State associations that lack a formal CAP may have informal networks of experienced psychologists capable of providing appropriate services to distressed psychologists. A variety of self care and colleague assistance resources are available at Practice Central. These include the articles Professional Health and Well-Being for Psychologists, which discusses psychologists’ occupational hazards and their potential consequences, and Intervening with an Impaired Colleague, which provides valuable information for psychologists concerned about a colleagues’ functioning. This piece helps psychologists determine how best to intervene and suggest a need for assistance and support.