As a mental health professional, you might find it impossible to take a day off when you need it without feeling extremely guilty. However, taking a day off can help you refresh, recover, and return to work feeling renewed and invigorated.
Unlike other professions, taking a day off in the mental health field may not seem as simple as putting in a request and forgetting about it until the day arrives or calling in sick the night before. In reality, taking a day off is not that easy. If your schedule is planned several weeks or months in advance, you likely have clients you see every day. When you take a day off–planned or not–these clients will have to have their appointments canceled or postponed to a later date.
For clients in therapy, this unexpected change might cause them to feel hurt, perceive abandonment, or react poorly. For some, therapy becomes a part of their routine and often the only stable part of their otherwise chaotic and unpredictable lives. A sudden change in that predictable routine could cause unintended hurt among clients still learning to manage their emotions and hold people to realistic boundaries.
As a therapist, you are likely conscious of this. You may want to prevent causing your clients harm. It can be challenging to understand that, while your clients are your responsibility, their feelings about your needs are not more important than your own health and well-being. Of course, there are limits. The mental health profession does not allow you to take frequently unplanned breaks or sick days. Clients thrive off routine and predictability, and creating trust through consistency is critical in establishing a relationship.
While this may seem confusing to accept, the reality is that you are allowed to take days off–even unexpectedly–when you need to. You can do so without guilt or anxiety. However, prioritizing your mental health when you need to will only serve to benefit not only yourself but the clients you work with.
Mental health providers everywhere are feeling the stark effects of burnout. According to a study published by Administration and Policy in Mental Health, burnout can result from “feelings of being depleted, overextended, and fatigued.”
Working long hours in a stressful profession can also affect your sleeping habits, resulting in illness, an inability to focus, and feeling consistently overwhelmed. If you are feeling the effects of burnout, you may not be able to give your clients a high-quality standard of care, despite your best efforts.
If you find that you are at the end of your ability to provide care that you can be proud of, then you might need to give yourself permission to take a day off–even if it is unplanned. Coordinate with your office or clients to ensure that appointments will be rescheduled quickly and with ease. You might want to consider not taking the appointments on your day off and moving them to an already filled day unless you have to, as this can lead to an overpacked schedule that can only increase your stress.
Being a mental health professional might make you feel as though you need to be invincible and perfect for your clients. You might feel that you always need to be there and that you are greatly responsible for their lives and choices. In truth, although you are a mental health professional, you are also a person at the end of the day, and all you are responsible for is your own actions and life. You are a person with needs, wants, fears, weaknesses, and imperfections. You can have off days, wake up feeling sick, or just need a day off for some much-needed self-care.
All of these things are normal and acceptable. You are allowed to take time off without feeling guilty or responsible for how your clients may react. Resting is just as important for you as it is for your clients, and implementing guilt-free rest into your schedule can help you avoid burnout and compassion fatigue.
In the end, taking time off when you need to also serves as an example to your clients that you are practicing what you preach. You are caring for yourself and your needs, even if it is not convenient or easy. Your absence may also help clients work through the feelings they experienced with the change in appointment, whether that be learning how to adjust to unpredictability or dealing with past trauma from abandonment.
Ultimately, you are allowed to take time off, even if you are a mental health professional and even if it is not always straightforward. Doing so when appropriate will benefit your life and your practice as you care for yourself and your clients.
For many mental health professionals, taking a day off can be extremely difficult. You might feel intense guilt or anxiety over having a planned or unplanned absence, worrying about how your clients might react to the change in their schedule, especially since consistency is essential in establishing a strong client-therapist relationship. However, choosing to give yourself permission to take time off -- despite how your clients might react -- can help you recharge and practice self-care, preventing burnout and compassion fatigue. At SokyaHealth, we understand the importance of implementing rest into our lives for balanced wellness. Our therapists can help you learn how to take days off without feeling guilty and set emotional boundaries with your clients as you prioritize your own needs. We can help you understand that you can be an excellent mental health professional while still ensuring that you are taking care of yourself. Call us today at (877) 840-6956 for more information.