How to Improve the Therapist, Counsellor and Psychologist’s Wellbeing
A Guide for Supervisees and Supervisors who want to inject fierce compassion into their workplaces
The wellbeing of therapists is deteriorating, and it is a serious problem that requires a powerful and immediate solution. Studies in the UK and worldwide, show that at least fifty per cent of psychotherapists, counsellors and psychologists are reporting signs of burnout. It is scary and a concerning reality, which I want to change.
Therapists are not the only profession suffering work-related stress and burnout, because many other professionals, including teachers, civil servants, doctors, accountants, lawyers and emergency service personnel, are reporting it too.
What is happening to our therapists that so many are suffering distress?
According to some of the world’s leading researchers on the subject of burnout, the causes are largely organisational. It is the systems and cultures we operate in that create this problem commonly known as burnout. The main causes observed across varying professional contexts include:
The wellbeing of therapists is taking a big hit, and it is largely due to factors outside of their direct control.
Is it down to organisations to change and improve therapist wellbeing?
Organisations do have a responsibility to take care of their people, and the Workplace Well-being Charter is an attempt to increase an organisation’s awareness of what helps and what doesn’t. However, this process is voluntary, and there are many challenges to influencing how organisations behave.
In my role providing therapy to people who are suffering from work-related stress and burnout, I tend to give one piece of advice: “Don’t wait for someone else to take better care of you.”
You cannot directly influence what other people do, including how kind and supportive they behave. However, you can directly control what you do for yourself and those in your team. By focusing on what you can do in these domains, I believe that we can create a more powerful and meaningful change.
What support is there currently available to therapists?
Psychology and Psychotherapy has a strong tradition of providing clinical supervision, and supervision is a necessary vehicle for practitioners to develop the necessary knowledge and skills that are required to help people in distress.
Supervision focuses not only on the acquisition of formative competencies, but it also recognises the need to support the therapist in professional or organisational issues. Often faced with ethical dilemmas, risk assessments and managerial concerns, counsellors can use supervision to address these subjects.
Supervision is also required to support the welfare and wellbeing of the therapist. Indeed, supervision is not therapy for the therapist, and yet the therapist’s experience in a therapeutic relationship is not separate from the process and the quality of the client’s progress. Supervision provides the opportunity for the therapist to recover from frustrations, inadequacies, failures as well as recognise possible ruptures or gaps in skills and knowledge.
Supervision can fail people
Given the client’s needs, the therapist’s wellbeing and developmental needs and the organisation’s needs, it can be tricky to strike the ‘right’ balance so that everyone reaps the benefits of supervision. In respect of the therapist’s wellbeing, supervision may be too infrequent to offer the required support. Similarly, supervision may be inadequate in that the supervisor has not developed sufficient knowledge or skill to facilitate effective supervision.
Pressurised work cultures can tip the balance of supervision in favour of organisational needs, therefore neglecting the therapist’s wellbeing. Although one might understand why this happens, it is a mistake when it does because supervisees are more likely to be left feeling unsupported. Moreover, this increases the risk of burnout and poorer client outcomes. It would be wiser for supervisors to pay closer attention to the welfare and wellbeing of their supervisees.
How can we support the therapist’s wellbeing at work?
According to research, when a person focuses on what they do rather than what they think, they improve their wellbeing. Positive self-perceptions play a minor role in mediating higher wellbeing, as do behavioural patterns that focus on escapism and instant gratification.
People that engage in personally meaningful activity experience better wellbeing both the next day and over the longer-term. However, given the work context for the therapist, it is easy to tune out from what one might recognise as personally meaningful. Therapists are people too of course, and we can safely assume that personally purposeful activity is likely to improve therapist wellbeing.
|This workshop attempts to rebalance the therapist’s focus by facilitating exercises that clarify both what and who is important to the individual.|
Empathy Fatigue undermines a therapist’s wellbeing and effectiveness
As the world-renowned author and trainer of mindful self-compassion, Chris Germer describes, compassion-fatigue is somewhat of a misnomer. If one is truly compassionate, it is not possible to become fatigued from acts of compassion, because true compassion includes a commitment to self-compassion too. On the other hand, a person can become empathy fatigued because through the emotional labour of therapy-work.
The Daily Life of a Therapist
Therapists, Counsellors and Psychologists often engage in the daily activity of providing individual psychotherapy. The context of attending to other people’s suffering and distress, over and over again, can be exhausting. Therapists may be more likely to struggle with self-sacrificing patterns and a higher need for recognition or approval from either their clients or their colleagues. To judge one’s success or effectiveness solely by what others think or say is a mistake because you have little control over what other people do. It makes much more sense for a therapist to focus on the development of their knowledge and skills, including their interpersonal skills.
When people struggle emotionally, they are more likely to act-out interpersonal patterns that are tricky for other people, and these behaviours often show up in the therapeutic relationship. Clients with neglectful childhoods may be more likely to act-out neediness and helplessness, and clients who suffered controlling upbringings may be more likely to act-out closed or aggressive behaviour. When this is challenging, a therapist may be left doubting their abilities or worse still, criticising their capacity to help at all.
How can we reduce Empathy Fatigue at work?
|In this workshop, you will focus on reducing your empathy fatigue by enhancing your self-awareness, openness to discomfort and commitment to activity that is values-based.|
To know what you value is to know how you want to live, function and be as a therapist. Generally, therapy training gives little attention for trainees to consider the type of therapist they want to be, and this leads to therapists focusing heavily on what to do with a client and how to form and end therapeutic relationships. However, when you know how you want to be with a client, it gives you a purposeful direction that is chosen by you distinct from whether your client feels better.
When the going gets tough, the tough sends you in the opposite direction
It is one thing to know how you want to be, and it is another to keep moving in that direction. For example, I want to be a therapist who is compassionate, persistent and courageous. Sometimes, when I am more settled, I can see these values clearly and make moves towards them. On other occasions when my emotions are more intense, or my mind gets too busy, I unintentionally act with less compassion, allow my frustrations to get in the way and avoid conversations or interventions that might be uncomfortable for my clients.
What can you do to be a better and consistent therapist?
As I said earlier, it is possible for self-awareness and openness to discomfort to reduce empathy fatigue. However, you may ‘feel’ like you have little time in the workplace to make time for self-care. Organisational cultures that regard self-care as something to be done in your own time, and self-rules such as ‘I’ll slow down if I become unwell’, tend to reinforce further the tendency to avoid habits of self-care at work.
|In this workshop, you will learn how to build small habits in self-care that focus on mindfulness, psychological flexibility and self-compassion. You will complete short exercises (no longer than five minutes duration), that work routines can easily accommodate. There is scope to build self-care into both personal practices between client sessions and within supervision.|
Why we should invest in supportive relationships at work
One cause of burnout is poor relationships at work that are unsupportive, entrenched in conflict or experienced as lacking equality. Humans are social beings, and we did not evolve to live and work on our own; we are not that kind of animal! If we are to succeed in improve the wellbeing of our therapists, it is of paramount that we include ways of building fierce compassion into our teams.
|In this workshop, you will explore ways of awakening compassion in your teams and workplace cultures. You’ll learn a four-step process for building compassion, and develop a sharper eye for the barriers that prevent this from happening.|
The Path to Competence and Stronger Social Groups at Work
Evolutionary behavioural science shows us that open-mindedness is tribal glue because when we act too self-assured and certain, it can exclude different perspectives. Many people take comfort in being ‘sure’ of the way to do things, but this certainty also creates serious problems at both an individual and social level.
When a person routinely avoids discomfort or ‘sticks to their guns no matter what’, they inhibit their learning and personal development. Your circle of knowledge remains small, and your ability to tolerate ambiguity is compromised.
High levels of closed-mindedness also damage interpersonal connections because people experience you as arrogant or over-confident. They discover that you are unwilling to be wrong or to hear their experience. For a therapist, this is a catastrophic mistake, and you will undermine your effectiveness if you are unwilling to embrace discomfort.
|In this workshop, you will learn a process for exploring healthy self-doubt. While unhealthy self-doubt and self-criticism is a cornerstone of burnout, healthy self-doubt can improve therapist wellbeing. Healthy self-doubt embodies mindfulness, curiosity and acceptance of discomfort. It helps you to learn by exploring what you do not yet know. In exercises of no longer than five minutes duration, you can build a greater capacity to learn from your discomfort and build a path to higher competence and stronger social connections at work.|
When is the next workshop?
THURSDAY 27TH MAY 4.30 PM TO 6.00 PM
Where is this event?
Would you like to book in-house training for your service?
Get in touch to arrange a one day training. Our ACBS peer-reviewed ACT Trainer, Jim Lucas, usually delivers this training at a fee of £850 per day (plus travel expenses and necessary accommodation). Please get in touch to have a chat about what you would like.