What Happens When Therapists Get Stressed?

We’ve all been there. The dog ran away, something expensive has malfunctioned in your home, your vehicle needs days and thousands of dollars or work, your family wants to hear from you and to top it all off, the flu has generously come to visit for several days.

Hopefully, no one is experiencing all of these at once, but you get the idea. Any and all of these things, and more, can haunt anyone in any line of work.

When one feels overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, depression, etc., they hopefully talk with someone about their experience to find healthy and effective ways of managing and getting better.

So, what happens when the person others seek out for help is the one overwhelmed with stress?

For some therapists, the remedies are simple and common-sense; however, you may be surprised at the number of practicing clinicians who maintain sub-par self-care practices. There are countless articles, books, and workshops specifically addressing the issue of self-care, but, in this empathy-heavy, helping profession, many forget that healthy healing comes from a healthy healer.

Personal Health

In addition to traditional and contemporary psychotherapies, I take a holistic approach to helping my clients, which often includes education and planning for healthy nutrition, physical activity, personal time for reflection and social interaction.

Health truly is mental, emotional, physica, and spiritual. It’s important for us to understand how what we put in our bodies affects our brains and bodies, therefore, affects our functioning. If these things are important for my clients’ well-being, why not mine?

In addition to how we fuel our bodies, how we utilize them is also crucial. Think of your car’s engine. If you leave it dormant for long periods of time, it may take a while to get going again. Likewise, if you run it to death, it eventually exhibits problems or shuts down. Like our cars, we must practice a balanced approach for physical activity.

If you are like me, having short-term and long-term goals in the area of physical health may be helpful. The financial commitment of a gym membership and registering for distance races often provide the motivation I need to stay on track.

Of course, you don’t have to run half-marathons or pump iron to be healthy. Something as simple as taking a 15 – 20 minute walk each day elevates your heart rate, aids in circulation and increases your metabolism. If you’re sitting in an office for much of your day, getting outside and moving may need to be toward the top of your to-do list.

If you have the space for it, you may even invite your client to move his or her session outside.

Meditation and Yoga

You’ve undoubtedly heard by now that meditation and yoga have many mental, physica, and spiritual benefits. Yet, whether because of  disbelief, time or simply not liking them, some people still choose to avoid these practices. The idea of starting a new routine can certainly be a deterrent. Trust me, you don’t have to flexible to benefit from yoga and you certainly don’t have to be a Tibetan Monk to feel the empowering and enlightening effects of meditation.

If you can spare15 minutes, two times per day, you have time to begin a daily meditation practice.

There are countless guided meditations to get you started. Similarly, you can find plenty of great yoga videos on the internet. If you’re feeling extra immersive, try finding a yoga studio near you.

Do Your Own Work

Now, this tip may seem like a no-brainer to many of you, but I continue to be surprised at the number of clinicians abstaining from supervision and/or their own therapy. For therapists, engaging in our own therapy or peer supervision is, perhaps, the most important component of managing stress.

Before starting my private practice, I worked as a clinician and a supervisor in a large mental health agency. Routinely, the same cluster of clinicians staffed the same issues each week. What was obvious to some was oblivious for them; it was actually the clinicians’ own baggage impeding the therapy more than the client “refusing” to change.

If you happen to be one of the therapists who has everything under control and needs no outside perspective, you have a right to self-determination. Just take a moment to ponder this thought: we spend much of our day, week-in and week-out, helping others get in touch with and effectively resolve, obstacles and challenges in their lives.

All the while, we have our own lives with ever-flowing ups and downs. Though we do our best not to enmesh the two, both versions of you show up for the session – the therapist and the person.

For some, the line of what your client is experiencing versus what you’re projecting on to them becomes increasingly blurry. Likewise, you may find yourself vicariously experiencing your client’s story in some way, unconsciously holding on to emotions that aren’t yours. This experience is especially true in trauma work. When we truly connect with someone, neither of these occurrences are far from reality.

Do yourself and your clients the favor of engaging in your own work and healing as a healthy healer. When you advocate for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, you are responsible for practicing what you preach.

Sick and stressed photo available from Shutterstock

What Happens When Therapists Get Stressed?

Patrick Bryant, LCSW, CCH

Patrick Bryant is owner and psychotherapist at The Peaceful Place, LLC in Decatur, GA. His practice draws focus from his expertise in anger, depression, and trauma in teens and adult men. As a practitioner of traditional and post-modern psychotherapy, Patrick’s incorporation of mindfulness and holistic health are designed to help the metropolitan Atlanta area grow and develop emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Visit for more information.


APA Reference
Bryant, P. (2015). What Happens When Therapists Get Stressed?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Aug 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Aug 2015
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