By Joe Oliver, PhD, and Helena Colodro-Sola, MSc, CPsychol
Research shows that nearly half of all therapists report moderate to high levels of burnout. Throw in a global pandemic (which also happens to completely change just about every aspect of our work as we move to teletherapy), and the prospect of burnout looms even larger.
Few of us were prepared for the transition to working online, and although it’s been a year now, most of us are making do as we desperately wait to be able to get back to our therapy rooms. This leaves us dealing with inadequate working spaces, fewer boundaries between work and personal spaces, “homeschooling” and kids at home, and unrealistic expectations from work and clients about our availability. On top of that, there’s the never-ending tech problems—poor Wi-Fi, audio issues, and those awful freezes that seem to happen right when our clients go to say something really profound.
As a result, we experience fatigue, headaches, anxiety, tearfulness, increased volume on the “I’m a terrible therapist” story, withdrawal from work, and waves of nausea whenever someone mentions the word “Zoom.”
Here are some top tips to survive teletherapyburnout. IMPORTANT CAVEAT: by virtue of writing these, it does not—at all—mean we have somehow mastered this issue. We both struggle with the pressures of working online in our own way. We are writing this as collators of the wisdom of others, and we do our best to follow these tips ourselves.
- Most of us come to this work with a deep desire to help, which is coupled with our own (often very) high standards for ourselves. This can mean we end up driving ourselves and constantly comparing ourselves to others, which can leave us feeling like a fraud or imposter.
Good enough is a kind, compassionate principle that allows us to do what is necessary to a good enough standard, while making room for our human limitations. Remember, that even if working online feels different from in person, chances are you are still being enormously helpful to your clients. The research says that even if it feels very different, it remains as effective as face-to-face therapy.
- Listen to your needs. Burnout is not a bad thing. It’s simply saying, “Hey, you—time to adjust!” Consider then how you can listen; how you can slow down, reduce your caseload, take breaks, and watch more movies.
- Introduce mindful transitions between clients. Choose to focus when you are working, but also, choose to have a proper break when you need it. Sit back on your chair or stand up for at least a couple of minutes before your next client, and reconnect with your breath and body. Do a quick body scan; stretch your neck, back, and legs; and anchor to your breath. Choose to stay there. Just that.
- This will pass, too. Remember that this situation is temporary. We will return to face-to-face work. This may be a good opportunity to identify how you want to reorganize your calendar in a way that works for you, is sustainable in the longer term, and aligns with your values.
Joe Oliver, PhD, is a consultant clinical psychologist, originally from New Zealand, and has lived in London for the past 20 years. He is the director of Contextual Consulting, an acceptance and commitment therapy-based consultancy.
Helena Colodro, MSC, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist working for the private sector in London, a psychology lecturer at a Spanish University, and one of the founders of Inspira Psychology, a psychotherapy center in Granada, Spain.