As most therapists know or come to learn over time, energy is a limited resource. Our profession is in great need due to the pandemic and the pull to help all those that reach out can be overwhelming. While it can feel good to be able to support others during these trying times, there is a real potential for burnout. As therapists, we need to sometimes put our oxygen masks on first to ensure we have the capacity and energy to be there for others.
In order to visualize energy better, a great way to think about it is as liquid in a cup. Inside the cup is all the energy you have for a day/week. Each time you use some energy up with sessions, notes, networking or one of the other various activities of a private practice practitioner, less energy remains. You can refill the cup at any time but to do so can require stepping back a bit, prioritizing self-care or being mindful of limiting those tasks that drain you or increasing those that give you energy.
So, are you over-extended? Take the next week to conduct an energy audit of your business. How? It is a pretty straightforward process. At the end of every day over the next week, write down everything you did for the day. For example, emailing/messaging clients, sessions, networking, notes. Next to each thing you did, put a plus next to it if it gave you energy and a minus if it drained you of energy. Additionally, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being “extremely” and 5 being, “not at all,” indicate if each item is a priority or not for you and your business. Below is an example of what that might look like (feel free to add the weekends to your audit).
At the end of the week, you want to look for trends. What is taking up your time the most? Does it fill you with energy? Are those things a priority to either you or your business? Do you notice that when you have a large number of sessions in a day it drains you? In the example provided, you may notice that this person gains energy in 5 or less sessions a day. More than that and those sessions start to drain them. Additionally, connecting with colleagues gives them energy, while notes and emailing leave them feeling drained. Each item has a different priority and is subjective to each individual. A consultation group might be a high priority for one therapist and a low priority for another.
Once you notice patterns, you can begin to adjust accordingly. For example, if you know that emailing/following up on items is draining for you, you may want to schedule time to do so first thing in the morning in an effort to get it off your plate. Or perhaps you decide to give yourself permission to take care of that task at the end of the day, avoiding thinking of it until the designated time you set aside for it. If meeting with colleagues for coffee fills you with energy, try to plan more of those throughout your weeks going forward.
Another common issue is that therapists (and people in general) tend to switch from one thing to the next leaving lots of items unfinished and hanging over their heads as to-dos. For example, you’re working on notes when a Slack message pops up, just as an email comes through with a link to a video a colleague would like you to check out. Additionally, a client is texting you to change their appointment time this week. And wait, where were you on that session note? If this sounds like you and your energy audit consists of a ton of broken up time in your day (e.g. you may have emailed a total of 1 hour but that was broken up into two 15-minute time periods and three 10-minute time slots), consider setting stronger boundaries around your time. For example, you can silence app notifications when you have allocated time to work on notes, put your phone in a drawer to avoid looking at it or close tabs on your computer to focus on the task at hand. Completing one task before starting another can help your brain avoid feeling overwhelmed and scattered by the end of the day.
There is no right or wrong in terms of what comes out of your energy audit. Both it and the solutions you create to address the issues you see, are as unique as each individual therapist. Your cup of energy and ways to refill it will be dependent on what drains or fills you up personally. The audit is merely a tool you can use when times of overwhelm are starting to impact your business and adjust accordingly.
Kealy Spring is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#93512) as well as a Leadership, Communication and Career Coach with offices in San Francisco. She works with driven professionals who seem to have it all together but feel lousy on the inside. Kealy can be found at www.kealyspring.com or at www.springaheadcoaching.com.