The advantages to private practice are many: the ability to create your own schedule, potential to earn a competitive income, and a capacity to choose your clientele, to name a few.
At the same time, the work can feel isolating. You’re often working alone in an office (or remotely) with clients. Some therapists struggle with setting boundaries for a healthy work-life balance. On top of all that, the work itself can be intense, draining, and stressful. When such stressors accumulate, they can contribute to burnout – which ultimately, may impact the kind of care provided to clients.
The good news is that by making a plan to proactively identify and reduce potential for burnout, you can learn to best care for yourself alongside your clients, and continue to grow a sustainable private practice. Here's how.
1. Know the warning signs of burnout for therapists in private practice
Some jobs and professions allow for conversations with coworkers throughout the work day, and can help people process their stress on a regular basis. Because therapists often work in an isolated environment, the opportunity for this processing isn’t always available. That’s why it’s especially important for therapists to self monitor their health and well-being.
Here are some signs to look for that may indicate you're approaching burnout:
Emotional and physical exhaustion
When you’re experiencing emotional exhaustion, it’s common to feel drained and unproductive. Emotional exhaustion can also be accompanied by a whole host of physical symptoms, including headaches and body aches.
A sense of detachment and depersonalization from your clients and yourself
It’s normal to have sessions with clients that are more challenging to get through than others, but if you’re starting to feel less engaged with most of your clients, or feeling like you are counting down the minutes to get through your day, it could indicate burnout.
Never feeling fully recharged
Not sure why you’re waking up and dragging your feet after a full nine hours of sleep every night? Even with adequate rest, you might still feel completely drained if you are experiencing burnout.
Have you ever realized your client was just talking for several minutes and you have no idea what they said? If you find it’s challenging to follow what your clients are saying, and this wasn’t an issue before, this could be a sign of burnout.
If this list of warning signs is sounding all too familiar and relatable right now, perhaps it’s time to start taking steps to address your potential burnout. The good news is, this doesn’t have to last forever! We came up with some great ideas that might help mitigate your burnout.
2. Consider taking time off to recharge
It’s easy to find reasons to not allow ourselves the vacation or time off from work we may need. After all, worrying if a client will be okay while you’re gone or having second thoughts about the loss of income are certainly valid concerns.
However, you might find that taking a few intentional days off from work is just the solution to your burnout. Consider swapping coverage with a colleague, and weigh the following ideas to “check out” from work and reset:
Take a day trip somewhere beautiful
The beach, the mountains, a new park you’ve never explored. Somewhere you can detach from your normal routines.
Book a weekend getaway within your budget
This will also depend on your comfort zone during Covid times – camping is a great option for many!
Pull out the robe and slippers for a staycation
You might find there are places in your own city you have yet to explore. While this is certainly the most budget-friendly option, you’ll need to take intentional steps to make sure you actually unwind and detach from work. No work emails or phone calls!
Whether you are splurging for something fancy, or keeping it simple at home, taking the time away from work might be the rejuvenation your body and mind need right now.
3. Take a hard look at what is and what isn’t crucial for running your own business
Running your own business can be challenging, and chances are you enjoy certain aspects of it more than others. Do an inventory of what professional activities and habits might be contributing to your burnout, and ask yourself what you can delegate or move off your plate entirely.
Consider the following domains of private practice management that can impact how much free time you have:
Can this be outsourced? Sometimes, therapists who work in therapy groups hire an office manager to help with the daunting and time consuming task of billing. Solo practitioners might also consider a billing professional, or investing in practice management software that can make submitting claims just a bit easier.
Remaining on insurance panels
There are benefits of belonging to different insurance panels, like being able to see more of a variety of clients. However, some therapists opt to not accept any insurance and operate their business on a private pay or sliding scale basis.
Dealing with insurance panels can add a significant amount of correspondence and documentation to the workload. This might feel overwhelming, and ultimately contribute to burnout.
Renting your own office space
Is your office space right for you and your practice? Office space can be expensive, so some therapists choose to office-share, alternating days of the week, and find this is a much more affordable option.
Office sharing also reduces the amount of money you have to spend on rent, which reduces the amount of hours you have to work and may potentially reduce symptoms of burnout in turn.
A jam-packed schedule
Part of the draw to being a therapist in private practice is the ability to make your own schedule. That being said, if you don’t set your own boundaries around when or how often you are willing to work, it could be a recipe for burnout.
Having a full caseload during the week and then agreeing to see a few clients on the weekend might sound like a good way to increase your income, but you might end up feeling so drained that the extra cash just isn't worth the price.
A good thing to think about when evaluating what changes you might make to your private practice in order to feel more balanced, is to think about what aspects of your job you value most. If having your own office space is high on your list of things that are important to you, look to make a change in another way!
4. Try out a new modality to introduce novelty to your work
Remember back in grad school when you were learning about all the different therapeutic modalities and you were super excited to try them all out? Or maybe you completed a training a few months back and haven’t found time to implement what you learned.
If you’ve been working as a therapist in private practice, you’ve probably gravitated towards your favorite one or two modalities that you use most often with clients. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
But perhaps trying a new modality will bring back some of the excitement you felt in school when you were continuously learning. If you’re feeling bored with your private practice, it might be time to branch out, seeking out new conferences or certification paths.
5. Turn to your sources for professional support
Whether you’re new to the private practice world or you’ve been providing therapy for 30 years, reaching out for regular support is always a good idea. Connecting with other professionals about caseloads, as well as our own well-being can be a great way to help prevent burnout.
If you're not already part of a consultation group, consider seeking or starting a new one. It can be a relief in of itself to have a safe place to discuss any ethical dilemmas, get advice from colleagues, and continue to be a part of a learning environment.
Practice what you preach, right? Hopefully, if you have your own therapist that you’re opening up to, they can help you notice signs of burnout.
Consider posting or keeping tabs on any list-servs you’re a part of for opportunities and connection. Whether you are using these platforms to connect with other therapists, or to help manage different aspects of your business, being a part of a like-minded network can help reduce feelings of stress.
If you’re used to flying solo, putting yourself out there to connect with others can be challenging. Set a realistic goal for yourself – perhaps seeing what supports are available to you in your area, for example.
6. Connect with old (or new!) non-therapist friends, too
While it’s great to be able to connect with like-minded folks, don’t forget your non-therapist friends can be vital sources of support as well.
If private practice is contributing to your burnout, it might actually feel refreshing to connect with someone who has a completely different lens.
7. Don't rush to conclusions
You may be thinking, “I have been feeling exhausted lately – is burnout the culprit?" But try not to jump to conclusions just yet, since other factors in your life are equally important pieces of the puzzle.
It could be burnout. But it could also be general stress, or a lifestyle change in need of a tuneup.
8. Take one step at a time
Know that even a small, preventative change to take something off your plate or improve your situation can help address (or prevent) you from fizzling out, moving forward.