The Highs and Lows of Being a Therapist

“Let’s go around the room and share our highs and lows from the past week,” my friend stated at last week’s Friday night Shabbat dinner. I was at the end of the table; therefore, my turn was last. When the time arrived for me to answer, my friend with a smirk on his face said, “alright now it’s the therapist’s turn;” I retorted: “no pressure.” Everyone laughed. I proceeded to share that my high was a patient who made progress this week, and that my low was that same patient telling me earlier in the week that I messed up for not being available on a Sunday when he was in crisis.

The person sitting across from me asked: “did you notice that your highs and lows had to do with your patients and not you?” Feeling defensive, I shared that my patients’ lives impact me – how could their stories not? Truthfully, I got defensive, because what he noticed is the very challenge I’m trying to work out as a brand new clinician: the challenge of a work-life balance in this field. Burnout is a big issue providers face in the field of mental healthcare. While this work is incredibly meaningful and rewarding (most likely the reason you chose this field as a career), it is not an excuse to ignore advocating for yourself and for other professionals. If you’re a provider reading this, here are a few ideas to prevent burnout:

  1. Support outside of work–it is essential that you have people in your ‘inner circle’ who you can go to for emotional support. You’re giving emotional support all day long to your patients; make sure to spend time with friends, partners, and family members who have the capacity to match your giving nature and give that same gift back to you.
  2. Support from colleagues–finding a community of clinicians who own up to the challenges of this field and try not to put on a facade is key to longevity in this career. Some of my greatest supports are my friends and colleagues from graduate school–if you ever run into us sitting and talking in one of our favorite restaurants, you’ll probably find us sharing our challenges and getting support from one another.
  3. Having passions outside of work–let’s get real, most of us chose this profession because it touches us on a personal level. Most likely you were seen as the ‘helper’ in your family or group of friends early-on and you know how to play this role naturally – so much so that it became a true passion. Having this passion solely, in my opinion, is not enough. To have a healthy work-life balance we have to find other outlets outside of work. What other communities could you join and volunteer for? What hobbies have you wanted to try? Where do you want to travel to next?

There are many more ways we can take care of burnout, but this list is a start. Think about one thing you could commit to this week to reduce your burnout. Do you have it? Good, now go do it – because you deserve it.


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