Balancing Professional and Personal Lives through Self-Care

Module Sections:

Scope of the Issue

Suppose you were to come upon a man in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

"What are you doing?" you ask.

 "Can't you see?" comes the impatient reply. "I'm sawing down this tree."

You exclaim, "You look exhausted! How long have you been at it?"

The man replies, "Over 5 hours, and I'm beat! This is hard work."

You inquire, "Well, why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw? I'm sure it would go a lot faster."

The man empathetically replies: "I don't have time to sharpen the saw. I'm too busy sawing!"

*When diagnosing our own problems, it is easier said than done

(Covey, 1989, cited in Norcross & Guy, 2007 p. 6).

In a study, Mahoney (1997) conducted a survey of 325 mental health professionals attending a conference on brief therapy in San Francisco and found therapists reporting a host of problems, such as:

  • 43% irritability or emotional exhaustion
  • 44% insufficient or unsatisfactory sleep
  • 42% doubts about their own therapeutic effectiveness
  • 38% had concerns about the size/severity of their caseload
  • 38% problems in their intimate relationships
  • 35% episodes of anxiety or depression

Other studies researches have consistently shown these types of distress among therapists. The top five sources of distress over this period include:

  • Relationship difficulties (38–82%)
  • Depression(25–76%)
  • Job stress (33–72%)
  • Irritability and exhaustion (33–43%)
  • Doubts about therapeutic effectiveness (42%)

Wood, Klein, Cross, Lammers, & Elliott (1985) also found that 40% of psychologists are aware of colleagues whose work is affected by the use of drugs and 60% of psychologists are aware of colleagues whose work is affected by depression or burnout.

Burnout intensity varies from temporary career boredom to full-blown meltdown. The symptoms range from empathic lapses to grouchiness to resentment to snapping at clients to indulgent self disclosure to a complete disregard for professional boundaries and ethics. Consequences include job dissatisfaction, poor job performance etc. (many of which will be discussed in the module).

  • Extensive information on burnout and depression can be found in a previous self-care module, "Challenges to Therapist Self-Care With in- Home Work"

Adding self care to your personal and professional life may sound like a strange concept, however it as essential to your wellbeing and your profession. As therapists you cannot give to others from an empty place. Taking time for self-care allows you to be replenished and energized instead of irritable, angry and overwhelmed. By nurturing, love and appreciating yourself you will be able to do the same for others.