“Work would be great if it weren’t for the clients” was something I heard regularly in my former occupation as an accountant. It was said tongue in cheek, but really spoke to a truth about the ambivalence that many feel about their work, and not just in accountancy. We’d like it to be easy and stress free, where often it’s anything but!
Often it’s not the clients that make the practice of therapy or counselling so difficult, but the other challenges that may keep us awake at night, such as financial struggles, administrative challenges, relationship issues and so on.
There are ways to make running your practice a bit easier on you, and here are 5 strategies that I find useful:
There is a serious danger in this work that the practitioner’s needs become eclipsed by the needs of her clients. This is particularly so in the early years, when a therapist may not have enough clients and takes on everything that comes their way for fear that there will never be any more.It can also be a problem for those who are well established when they encounter particular clients.
However, there also some easy ways to look after yourself so that you have what you want to give:
Look after your own needs, and balance them with the needs of those you seek to help. You cannot give what you don’t have, or what you don’t allow others to give you. You can’t help everyone, and you are not the only support your clients will have. There’s a reason they ask on airplanes that you put on your own air-mask before attending to the needs of others! Read more about self care
Over the last week, I’ve been making suggestions about how you might use the Therapy Practice Business Assessment as the basis for making some changes to your therapy or counselling practice in 2016. So far, we’ve looked at three areas: Knowing Your Practice, Growing Your Practice and Valuing Your Practice. (You can read the blog posts in which I made suggestions in those areas by clicking on the links.)
Today we’re going to look at the fourth pillar of a successful practice, Minding Your Practice.
When they hear that phrase, most people think first about the practical steps of insurance and safety, and these are indeed important. Another important area in minding your practice is self-care, and one that is often overlooked is provision for the future. What steps could you take in 2016 to mind your therapy practice, to make it more robust, and to help create a buffer against the vagaries of life? Here are some ideas…
At a recent workshop, I was surprised to hear so many speak of the desire to step out of the frantic energy that seems to be around this time of year in the run up to Christmas. My surprise was not just that so many named it, but that I too was feeling it, and I too was glad of the pause.
For some reason this time of year seems to bring out an urgency in us, to buy presents, food and drink, to clean our houses, to redecorate, to lose weight, to complete projects, as if it were not just the end of the calendar year, and a holiday period, but the end of our existence as we know it. A death. And indeed, the winter and its solstice is a form of death, the shortest day, more dark than light.
Most occupations have their stress points, and therapy and counselling are no exception. Sitting with clients while they talk about their lives, particularly if you find yourself tired and drained at the end of the day, can take its toll. The financial climate at present is causing huge stress for many people. Many people find that the pace of life is overwhelming, the rate of change too fast. Stress can grow unnoticed, and its effect can be highly detrimental to health.
And of course, stress at work doesn’t exist in isolation. Elsewhere in our lives, students are facing exam pressures, parents are juggling work and family, most of us encounter traffic and commuting stress and the run of the mill everyday challenges of living.
To be effective in the work, we need to be sufficiently well. Our stress levels shouldn’t be allowed to grow to such an extent where we are unable to be present to our clients.
I’d like to suggest 10 ways in which to help keep the stress at bay:
Breathe, and check in with your body. How are you feeling right now?
Exercise regularly. Take regular breaks, and relax. Go outside, look at the sky.
Find some daily practice that encourages you to breathe more, relax, and connect with your body, eg meditation or yoga.
Take the conflicts and dramas out of your relationships. Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt before rushing to judgement.
Count your blessings. In every challenge there is an opportunity. Be alert to the silver lining in every cloud.
Stop fighting with things or situations that are outside your control (this includes other people, you can‘t change them no matter how much you might want to.)
Take responsibility for your part in every situation. It reminds us of where we have power and choice to make changes and move forward.
Recognise and acknowledge your inner conflict. Accepting a situation is not the same as giving in.
Talk about what’s bothering you with a colleague, family member or friend. Even if you don’t see how they might help you, talking helps to relieve stress and can change the way you see things.
If a situation persists and is causing you distress, remember you always have a choice. There are no medals for enduring a situation that is painful to you. Consult a professional before your health starts to suffer.
In short, look after yourself, and you’ll have more left to give to others.
If you are finding it hard to keep the stress of therapy practice at bay, maybe I can help? I offer a range of services including a free 20 minute consultation. Click here for more details.
Much of our work focusses on the trouble and pain that our clients encounter in their lives. Some days sitting with clients can be a dark and hopeless experience. It’s important therefore that our life outside the therapy room gives us some balance to that. We all have ways that work for us, but at times (usually when we need it most) we can forget to let the sunshine in!
Here are some ideas for finding a more positive place in yourself when the work gets you down:
Do more of what pleases you…take a moment now to reflect: What brings you happiness? What makes you laugh? What do you enjoy most in your average day?
Focus on what’s good in your life: often we can overlook the many tiny blessings that come our way each day, for example…the sun comes up without fail…I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge…I got a parking space right outside the door!
Find reasons to praise others, you’ll be surprised how good it feels! Appreciate the positive in everyone you meet, and be glad for their good fortune.
Forgive everyone for everything: Holding on to old hurts (no matter how justified you are) harms you more than it does those who hurt you. Letting go of what you’re carrying, resentment, bitterness and anger is a hugely freeing experience.
Get out more: Experience the beauty of our world,and its animals, nature, and all its inhabitants.
Listen to the quiet inner voice that says ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and trust it.
Stop judging yourself: You may not have control over how other people see you, you always have control over how you see yourself. Be kinder.
I have written before on the subject of client and therapist needing to be a good match. (See here) There can be a tendency when first starting out in practice to take any client that comes along, out of fear that there will be no more. That is understandable, but may be a mistake. Some clients are just not a good fit for us.
While seeing a new client for the first time, I was aware of a strong, sharp pain in my stomach. After the session, the pain lingered, and it took me a couple of days to shake it off. I knew it was a tension pain. I could feel the stress elsewhere in my body, and a sense of being disconnected.
During the second session, the same thing happened. I told the client that I was aware of discomfort in my stomach as he spoke, and sure enough, it mirrored something that was happening for him.
Shortly before our third session, the client rang to cancel, and when I probed a little for the reasons, the client said he was not going to continue. I tried to persuade him, and then stopped myself. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I wouldn’t have to endure that pain again.
It really was very strange, I thought, that I had been working to retain a client with whom I had had such a physical reaction. Stranger still was a sense of lack in me, that I had to hold onto him at all costs, as if there would never be another client. Ironically, I’m very busy just now, so it’s not that I need the money, and I have a good stream of client referrals so there was no fear that I would have no work to do. I was reminded of a colleague speaking recently about “heroism” among therapists, and feeling we had to be a certain way.
Reflecting afterwards, I realised that I really didn’t want to work with this client, not because I disliked him, or was unable or unwilling to help him. I didn’t want to work with him because the energy between us caused me great physical pain. And I can’t see any situation in which sitting with a client that has such an effect on me can be good for either of us. It certainly got in the way of me being fully present to him.
The rub was that I felt really guilty that I didn’t want to work with him, and ashamed of my reluctance and guilt. So I covered it up by working really hard to hold onto him, even when he wanted to leave.
There is a difference between a client who stretches us and a situation which takes us so far out of our range that we lose connection to ourselves. In this case, it was the latter.
I was not a good fit for this client, and I’m glad he realised it, even if I didn’t at first. My wish for him is that he finds someone who is better suited to him.
My wish for myself is that next time, I’ll be a bit more aware of listening to my body.
Ahh, it’s good to be wise in hindsight. If you’re struggling to get enough clients to pay the bills or to have the life you’d like, perhaps I can help. Contact me here to make an appointment or browse my services to see how I can help.
You’ve heard the saying about the cobbler’s children haven’t you?
So many therapists tell me they enjoy what they do. They speak warmly of the growth they see in clients, the tiny surge of excitement when something changes, and the joy of seeing someone move on to better things.
However, sometimes after that first rush of enthusiasm I hear, “but…” Sometimes they go on to talk about the challenge of earning enough, or of getting clients, or of balancing their work and home lives, or the challenge of working with one or more clients. Or maybe some or all of the above.
If you enjoy your work, great. Good for you. If not, do something about it. The impact of doing work we don’t enjoy is highly stressful and leads to burn out and compassion fatigue.
Often a small change in the short term can have a big result. Take some time off, change the balance of your client portfolio, do a workshop or take up a new hobby. Take more exercise, eat less sugar and fat, drink less alcohol, have more sex and laugh more.
If these don’t work, or you’ve been feeling like this for a while, you may need to get help. And before you tell me you’re a therapist and know about these things, it might interest you to know that I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that mental health professionals are at least as likely as their clients (if not more so) to suffer the issues they work with. (Don’t believe me? Check out some of the articles below.) And like many other professionals, we also suffer from being unable to take our own advice.
You are your practice’s most precious asset. Self-care is probably the most important discipline you can practice. In my view, it should be a core part of CPD. And while supervision might give you some support around client issues, it is not a substitute for getting appropriate medical or psychological support if the situation calls for it.
There’s a reason why they tell you on airplanes to put on your own air mask before attending to children or other passengers. The reason is that if you can’t breathe yourself, you’re not going to be much help to anyone else.
If you’re wondering why I’m being so dogmatic about this, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. In fact I’ve learnt it several times over, until I got it drummed in to my head, and will probably need to learn it again. Last time it happened, struggling with the impact of working with a certain client, I found myself overwhelmed emotionally and did nothing about it. However, my body stepped in and took charge of the situation. I put my back out, and it took weeks to recover. I’m glad it did, because bloody minded as I am, I would probably have gone on ignoring the obvious.
So, if you’re feeling low, don’t keep it to yourself. Do yourself, your family and friends, and your clients a favour, and tell someone. Just Ask!
A small sample of articles suggesting that as a profession we’re not immune from mental health issues: