How to Manage Emotional Fatigue as a Sensitive Therapist
How often do you head home after a day of seeing clients feeling emotionally exhausted and depleted? Perhaps all you can think of doing is crawling into bed or vegging on the couch with your favorite comfort food or a glass of wine - no energy left over for you or your family. As Highly Sensitive Therapists (HST), we have the capacity to dive deeply into the myriad of experiences that our clients bring to us - from childhood pain and trauma to romantic bliss. It can often feel like a “rollercoaster of emotions”, to quote a fellow HST, and it takes a significant amount of energy to go on that journey each day.
Why do Highly Sensitive Therapists feel so deeply for our clients?
Studies have shown that Highly Sensitive People have more active mirror neurons, the part of the brain that is responsible for feelings of empathy and more activity in areas of the brain that are involved with emotional responses. As a result, we feel both positive and negative emotions more intensely, whether they are our own or those of our clients. This emotional responsiveness combined with our Highly Sensitive brain’s tendency to process information deeply can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unable to create boundaries. We often think and worry about our clients long after sessions are over.
“I’m always very engaged and invested in each session, so by the end of the day I feel emotionally overwhelmed. It’s a life long process to stay empathic while holding healthy boundaries.” - Sarah-Elizabeth McCann
How can our Emotional Responsiveness and Empathy negatively impact us?
- Feeling fatigued and overwhelmed.
- Getting headaches or experiencing physical tension throughout the body.
- Extensively worrying about our clients well-being after sessions.
- Prioritizing our clients’ needs over our own by:
- Extending session lengths.
- Not charging cancellation fees.
- Being available outside of work hours to answer non-emergency calls, emails or texts.
“I’ve noticed that I tend to feel the intensity of clients’ bottled up emotions in my own body.” - Marni Goldberg
How can we manage our emotional overwhelm?
- Implement a consistent sleep schedule with time to wind down before bed.
- Model healthy boundaries for our clients which also helps to preserve our own energy.
- Practice regulation techniques such as mindful breathing before and during sessions.
- Take time to ground in ourselves and clear away any emotional residue after each session.
- Incorporate stimulation breaks throughout the day to reduce overwhelm:
- Close our eyes for at least 60 seconds after each session.
- Take time for quiet reflection.
- Go for a walk outdoors or if possible, spend time in nature.
“When you are feeling pulled by a client emotionally, it helps to position your body differently - lean backwards, cross your legs, or pivot to the side. Shifting your body language can help you know the emotion you are feeling is not yours." - Beth Dawson
Our ability to connect emotionally and feel deep empathy for our clients is one of our greatest strengths as Highly Sensitive Therapists, but can leave us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Managing this emotional depletion is possible when we set healthy boundaries, take time to regulate our nervous system between sessions and practice a consistent self-care routine throughout the day.