8 Self-Care Strategies for Psychologists

26 September, 2020
If you want to help others, you have to take care of yourself first. Here are some self-care tips for psychologists.

Psychologists are people too. For better or for worse, we don’t stop being human in the day-to-day practice of our profession. In that sense, taking care of our own health is part of our job, especially if we understand the risks of potential burnout. That being said, how should we take care of ourselves? Of all the situations we face, which are the most dangerous for our well-being? Today, we’ll share some self-care strategies for psychologists and try to answer some of these questions.

Although psychologists work in many different contexts, human interaction is always part of their work. No matter your specialty, it’s important to remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you want to help other people, you have to make sure you take care of yourself.

“Know all the theories, master all the techniques, but as you touch a human soul be just another human soul.”

-Carl Jung-

A psychologist at work in a sweater.

Self-care strategies for psychologists

Oxford Dictionary defines care as “the provision of what’s necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something”. Thus, self-care is providing what’s necessary for your own health and welfare.

Self-care for psychologists involves certain practices that ensure our well-being. It’s a matter of taking care of our health in a holistic way. Here are some of our suggestions:

1. Self-knowledge

Self-knowledge is something we all practice to some degree. It comes as much from experience as from meta-experience. For psychologists, this practice is especially important. In our profession, it’s very important not to lose focus or fall into the temptation of projecting what we know about ourselves onto the patient.

On a professional level, self-knowledge also helps us know which clients we’ll be able to help, and what clients we should refer to someone else. This is an especially valuable skill in the clinical setting.

2. Self-control

Another self-care strategy for psychologists is self-control. According to Webster’s Dictionary, self-control is “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires”.

Self-control is key to a psychologist’s well-being because it helps us set and respect set boundaries. We create these boundaries during moments of analytical reflection, so they aren’t influenced by impulses that arise. Staying in control and being assertive also makes it easier to connect with others in a personal way.

3. Resilience

Resilience is the ability to overcome problems. It’s useful if you’re trying to help someone else because you can share your own experiences with hardship and how you overcame adversity.

If you’re resilient, you’ll also have the strength to deal with other people’s problems that remind you of your own. Our natural defense mechanisms usually try to avoid these triggering situations, but resilience can help you cope.

Clinical psychologists are often moved by patients’ struggles and problems. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If you’ve been able to overcome your own adversities, you’ll be moved in a positive way. It may even be transforming.

4. Go to therapy

This is an excellent habit, both for clinical psychologists and those who work in other contexts. Remember that therapy can help you understand yourself better, work through problems, and add value to your work. It’s an investment with great returns.

Therapy also fosters resilience and emotional management, which are essential for your emotional, social, and physical health.

Constant interaction with patients can quickly lead to burnout. Psychotherapy is a great tool to avoid emotional and intellectual exhaustion. Good psycho-therapeutic supervision can also help keep the weaknesses and character faults we all have in check. If you’re struggling at work, don’t hesitate to seek help for yourself. It’s one of the most important self-care strategies for practicing mental health professionals.

5. Tap into your social support network

A fulfilling social life is essential for well-being. Thus, this is an important form of self-care for psychologists that we want to emphasize. Fostering connections with others on a professional level helps develop empathy. On a personal level, it broadens and strengthens your support network.

To make the most of your social circle, you need to cultivate relationships with people who enrich your life. Remember to set boundaries with both your professional and personal contacts. Because, after all, toxic relationships won’t contribute anything positive to your mental health.

In fact, you can practice setting boundaries with people close to you who seek out your (unpaid) help. Talk to them about how that dynamic is part of your work, and how it works in a clinical setting.

6. I take care of you and I take care of myself

Working as a psychologist involves a commitment to caring for other people’s well-being. This commitment sometimes leads to getting involved in a way that’s outside the bounds of responsible behavior.

In addition, psychologists, in their desire to help others, neglect their own mental health. This kind of behavior will ultimately be detrimental to the care they can offer their patients.

7. Practice mindfulness

Researcher Therese Eriksson at Umeå University in Sweden found that mindfulness could help reduce burnout in practicing psychologists. This study supports the idea that self-care practices are crucial to keep psychologists healthy and well.

Being aware of our needs makes it possible to avoid reaching the breaking point. You can improve awareness through meditation, non-judgmental observation, detachment from results, accepting and letting go, listening to yourself, and connecting to the present moment, among other things.

A person meditating.

8. Disconnect from work

Disconnection means that there’s a time and a place for everything. It means understanding when you should free your attention from your conscious will (when you want to rest) and when you shouldn’t (when you’re with a patient, for example).

You should also come up with a set of priorities that protects what directly affects your well-being. In other words, your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual self. Here are some activities that can help:

  • Physical exercise.
  • Getting together with your loved ones.
  • Eating with your significant other.
  • Eating in a mindful way.
  • Giving yourself space to be alone.
  • Playing.
  • Making art.
  • Listening to music.
  • Meditating.

In conclusion, there are many different self-care strategies for psychologists. The most important thing is to be aware of the importance of self-care and employ these strategies frequently. They’re the key to preventing burnout and allowing you to provide the best possible care for your patients.

Merlano, A. (2011). Prácticas para desarrollar la autoconsciencia. Revista científica de pensamiento y gestión, 17, 134-160.

Morales Micula, N.G. (2017). Herramientas y estrategias utilizadas para psicólogos clínicos cuatemaltecos que trabajan como psicoterapeutas. Tesis de grado.Universidad Rafael Landívar.