You spend your days hearing stories threaded with pain, shame, hopelessness, grief, and self-doubt. You hold space for your clients to work through their struggles. You are the guide toward hope and healing, the keeper of solutions and strategies. You’re good at what you do.
Does this mean you’re exempt from struggles yourself? That you know the perfect solution to every problem, yours and your clients’ included? That your emotions are always regulated, your self-care always maintained, your boundaries always clear and communicated? Of course not.
Being a therapist does not separate you from being human. In fact, it is your humanity that allows you the empathy and understanding to be a great therapist.
What is self-compassion?
To have self-compassion is to turn the kindness you have for others inward, especially when you are having a difficult time, when you make mistakes, or when you fail. Practicing self-compassion is imperative for preventing burnout.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, it comprises 3 overarching components: self-kindness versus self-judgment (i.e., “difficulty is inevitable and I can accept this reality with self-kindness”); common humanity versus isolation (i.e., “all humans are imperfect, not just me”); and mindfulness versus over-identification (i.e., “I can be aware of my thoughts and emotions without over-identifying with them”).
You don’t have to have all the answers.
You genuinely care about the wellbeing of your clients, and you want to see them find contentment and fulfillment. Naturally, you want to be as helpful as you can for them. But part of having self-compassion as a therapist is giving yourself permission to not always have the answers to every problem. Sometimes it’s enough to walk side-by-side with your clients through the dark instead of one step ahead of them showing them the way.
You’re human, too.
Being a psychotherapist does not preclude you from emotional pain. It also doesn’t require you to employ every practice you recommend to your clients at all times. We, like our clients, are often learning the same lessons over and over again. Instead of being hard on yourself for this, use it as evidence of your shared humanity with your clients.
You’re likely often reminding your clients of their own humanity. You have compassion for them when they’re being hard on themselves. Remember: you are capable of holding that same kindness and compassion for yourself.