How to be a Therapist When Your Life is Falling Apart

You are a human being in the real world and sometimes your life, like a taco, is going to fall apart. You still have a job to do. Some jobs are easier than others when heavy things are going on. Therapy isn’t one of them. You can take a sabbatical, maybe, cancel your clients for a day or two, or a week, but probably not much longer than that. Or you can keep working and get by. What to do is a very personal choice and depends on many factors that you will have to weigh. You might seek supervision about transferring your caseload while things settle down or how to proceed.

Doing the minimum Get up, take a shower, and get dressed. You can do the minimum if you have to for now. That may mean not shaving, not dressing well, or not styling your hair. It’s alright to do what you can. Even the minimum can be a lot sometimes. Go easy with yourself.

Being there for your clients when you don’t have anything to give Therapy is part conversation, part technique, part education, and part entertainment. When you’re depleted in your personal life, you may not feel able to do those things. Just show up. When the part of conversation that is yours drags, use silence; you didn’t choose to be a clown and don’t have to entertain all the time.

What do I say? But what if my clients notice I’m not myself, not cheerful, not energetic? Own it. Use it as a teaching moment to say “we’re all going through stuff and we all get by sometimes, even me, even you.” Let it be okay to not be okay all the time. Demonstrate the principles you teach. I also like the analogy “Sometimes I’m at 100% and I can give 100%, but sometimes I’m at 30% and that’s what I can give.”

How much to share Keep it to yourself to be ethical and process your stuff in your time. Use a blanket statement like “I’m just going through some things right now” or “things are just rough right now.” You don’t have to reassure your clients that you’re fine if you’re not, promise them you’ll be alright if you’re not sure you will be, or worry them unnecessarily. You also don’t want them guessing about your personal life, prying, or following up on your issues – that’s your job for them, after all.

Get therapy Don’t hesitate to get yourself therapy. Find one who is a good fit for your needs. Process your stuff. Do your homework. Be a good patient. It’s okay if you just cry the whole time. Sometimes just thinking about my therapy appointment coming up makes me cry because I’m holding it together the rest of the time until then. If you can’t cry in therapy, I don’t know where you can. Express any countertransference as it comes up.

Self care Oh boy is this a hard one! Sleep, eat decently, journal, get some gentle movement in like a walk, and drink water. Oh, and socialize and do your hobbies. You know, all that stuff you tell your clients about. I know you don’t want to and feel like you can’t; do what you can, then do a little more. Oh, I know how hard it is but you have to in order to have a chance at getting out of The Pit, and you need out. Even spending one minute on a self care activity can be progress, so mark that progress and go forward.

Referring out and consultation If there are certain topics that are too close to home right now (relationship issues, parenting issues, whatever the thing may be) or certain populations you cannot deal with right now, stop taking those new cases and refer out your existing similar cases. It’s the ethical thing to do, to let them continue their treatment with someone who has the capacity for them if you currently do not. Unsure how to do this or to whom to send them? Seek consultation. Ask your peers for recommendations on how to handle things that are sensitive for now. Consider taking a sabbatical if it’s possible for you to take a leave for awhile while you get things sorted out. Tell your clients only the brief statement you prepare in advance that does not inure them, like “I’m stepping away from my practice for now and am uncertain when I will return, but am providing you with 3 capable therapists to choose from that work with your needs and insurance. I’m emailing your their contact information and a link to their websites so you can decide who to work with.” Consultation can help you set up referrals and a statement like this. It probably won’t feel good to do, but having done it will feel like relief and will minimize countertransference.

Know that this, too, will pass. What is happening is hard, but you will persevere. You have survived every bad day so far. Keep going. Be gentle with yourself.

Autumn Hahn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist practicing at Clear Mind Group in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Virginia. Call 954-612-9553 for a consultation. Follow Autumn on Twitter & Facebook.

Have a Happy Relationship in 7 Steps

Valentine Couple. Portrait of Smiling Beauty Girl and her Handso
Valentine Couple. Portrait of Smiling Beauty Girl and her Handsome Boyfriend making shape of Heart by their Hands. Happy Joyful Family. Love Concept. Heart Sign. Laughing Happy Lovers. Valentines Day

A long-time friend recently told me “you’re the only person I know that’s happily married.” While I took the compliment, I thought it awfully sad for her friends. I asked “what about other relationships?” She said it was the same all over, married, living together, seriously dating, everyone she knew, including herself, was unhappy in their relationship.

It got me to thinking: What makes my relationship a happy one? Is it simply a matter of perception, that she assumes I’m happy and assumes others are not? She’s not delusional and seems to have a pretty good handle on how others truly are, so that seemed unlikely. I don’t present a false front to her, so that seemed an unlikely reason. Is my relationship happy? Yes, I feel happy in it. Her statements must be true, to the best of her opinion. So why am I happy and so many people, at least by this sample, seem to be less so?

I do the following things, that may be a benefit to you in your relationship:

  1. Say thank you. The little things add up. If you spouse did something around the house, notice and say thank you for having done that thing, even if it’s so mundane as preparing a meal or bringing in the trash cans. After all, without them doing it, it’s all on you. Once in awhile, say thank you for the bigger things “thank you for going to work every day and making sure we have enough money to pay our bills,” or “thank you for always being available to listen when I need to vent about the kids.”
  2. Let it go. We have a rule that may or may not work for you: whatever is bothering you, you have to say it right away. This involves no stewing, no ruminating, no grudges. We never have an argument (we rarely argue anyhow) that involves “and remember last month when…” because we dealt with that thing last month. Sometimes these things are stupid, like “you said you’d move my laundry to the dryer and it’s still in the washer.” Stupid, right? I know. But isn’t that the kind of thing that, if you ruminate on it, will lead you to say things about a person’s character like “he never follows through.” Is that true? No, but there seemed to be a lack of follow through in that instance. So deal with the issue, not the characteristic. You are with someone because you believe their traits are good, overall.
  3. Keep it to yourself. Don’t talk smack to your friends or family or coworkers. They will hear you in a bad mood and make generalizations, especially if mostly what they hear is your bad-mood stuff. They’ll then give you advice like “you don’t need someone like that,” which may be far from true, but when several people say the same things, you may doubt yourself. Be slow to talk negatively about others (your spouse, your kids, your friends, your family) to anyone. Be quick to talk positively, though. This is not akin to wearing blinders and pretending things are as they aren’t, but evaluating on your own scale, not an outsider’s. Journaling is a better outlet.
  4. Compromise. You shouldn’t get your way all the time. Weigh the importance of the issue with the importance of your continued relationship. The old saying is “You can either be right or happy.”
  5. Communicate. Oh, so cliche! I know, I know. It’s a skill; it’s an art. Talk, face to face, at least a few minutes every day. Know what an expression means, a gesture, a lack of talking about something. My best friend said of me, “I can tell by the tone of your silence when something’s bothering you.” That’s an art developed over decades.
  6. Do the little things. I’m always thinking of people I love. When I’m at a store or watching TV or reading, I may see a passage or article or item that reminds me of them. I snap a photo, send an email or a text, pick up an inexpensive thing, right then. I don’t wait, don’t hold things for special occasions. I say “I saw this and thought of you.” Most of my circle has said I’m incredibly considerate because of that. How much effort does that take? Almost none. Almost no money – if I can’t afford a thing, I photograph it and send a text “doesn’t this remind you of that time we were talking about…” My one friend has a pair of scissors I got her in the shape of a woodpecker that makes her laugh every time she’s in her kitchen because we were once at a party and a man told us a terrible joke involving a woodpecker with no punchline. We still laugh about it. It takes no money and almost no effort to connect with others. I made a bad-day-bag of gift wrapped item of less than $10 each that my husband can pull from when he’s had a bad day at work, after a rather long run of such bad days. You know when he sees these little things, he thinks of me and that I was thinking of him.
  7. Take nothing for granted. I believe that divorce is possible for me, that people change, that this marriage may not last forever. I spend some time each day devoting time and energy to my marriage and my spouse. While that amount of time and energy varies, I don’t think I ever miss a day.

If you find this useful in some way, please share the information.

Autumn Hahn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist practicing at Clear Mind Group in Weston, Florida. Call 954-612-9553 for a consultation. Follow Autumn on Twitter Facebook. Sign up for the e-newsletter HERE.

Get Better Today

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That’s me in a session, at my old office.

A little background: At this point, I’ve been specializing in clearing trauma for over a decade. I studied psychology for my entire 7-year college education. Point is: I’ve been at this awhile and am trained in making people well; but, I’m also trained in making people well, whole, happy, and doing it FAST!

I’m a Certified Practitioner in Continue reading “Get Better Today”

Qualifications Explained

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The world of psychological credentials is confusing to laypersons. Here is your handy guide: Continue reading “Qualifications Explained”