How Many Clients Can I See Before I Get Burned Out?
How many clients should I see per week? This is a commonly asked question amongst online therapist groups, yet the answer is very subjective. No one knows how many clients you should see per week except for you because only you know what will be sustainable for your needs. Understandably though, many of us search for that magic number and hope it is acceptable to have a lower client load, at least in the Highly Sensitive Therapist (HST) community. Seeking external validation and perspective is normal, but can lead to feelings of inadequacy for HSTs since many of our non-HST colleagues are seeing more clients per week with energy to spare. Comparing ourselves can lead to feelings of self-doubt and confusion as to why we are so exhausted despite seeing less clients.
Less is More
Just to put things into perspective, in a recent poll of Highly Sensitive Therapists from around the country, 74% reported that their ideal client week is seeing 14 clients or less. Only 2% preferred seeing 20 or more clients per week. With additional income supports in place, most of these same therapists reported that they would see even fewer clients per week than indicated above in order to do their best work and feel the most fulfilled. The takeaway here is that less is more for us.
We Are Wired Differently
As Highly Sensitive Therapists, we need to create a different metric for ourselves. Our brains process deeply, we feel our emotions intensely, our nervous systems pick up more subtleties and we have more active mirror neurons (the part of the brain responsible for empathy). We need to take into consideration that we are literally wired differently. All this internal activity takes up a considerable amount of energy and allows us to show up in a profound way for our clients.
It is helpful to take a “quality over quantity” approach in how we feel fulfillment in our work, how we show up for our clients and how many client sessions we conduct per week. We give more of ourselves and our systems take in more in every session, therefore we deplete our reserves quicker than non-HSTs. For this work to be sustainable, we must understand that we have different needs and different capacities. Needing to see fewer clients per week does not mean we are less valuable or less competent therapists, it just means we have different strengths. Our Sensitive Strengths of enhanced empathy, perception and presence are incredible gifts to our clients. Seeing fewer clients per week ensures that we have more to give to the clients we do see.
How can we work less hours?
You may be thinking that the idea of seeing less clients per week sounds appealing but is not practical. The difficult truth is that creating sustainable and fulfilling work is not optional for us as HSTs. We must find ways to support our Highly Sensitive systems or risk being burned out from overwhelm and exhaustion. Outside of being independently wealthy or having the benefit of a spouse to support us, below are a few common strategies to find balance:
- Focus on accepting yourself, your needs and your clinical gifts as a Highly Sensitive Therapist.
- Embrace your worth and charge more per session.
- Increase private pay clients or focus on higher paying insurance panels to reduce the number of sessions you need to work per week.
- Tighten your financial systems and boundaries so that you are collecting late cancellation fees and not giving your time away for free.
- Diversify and consider adding additional streams of income such as groups, consultation, supervision or non-clinical work.
- Highly Sensitive Therapist Self-Care by Dr. Elaine Aron
- Living a Balanced Life as a Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron
- How to Set Fees for Your Therapy Practice by Annie Schuessler
- You Don’t Need More Clients by Tiffany McLain
Next time you find yourself thinking about how many clients you should see per week, stop and ask yourself:
- “How many clients per week is most sustainable for ME?”
- “How can I make that happen so I can do my best work and feel the most fulfilled?”
When we begin to understand that we have different capacities and strengths as Highly Sensitive Therapists, we can let go of the need to compare ourselves to others and create our own measure of worth. We begin to understand that we are successful therapists, even when we see less clients. It is absolutely okay to beat to the rhythm of our own drum.