Safeguarding your own mental health as a practitioner

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The number of clients presenting with burnout is on the rise. How do you balance your own work-life balance and mental health with client needs,
and how can you receive help effectively when the scales tip too far one way? Dr Lynn Suter looks at mental health provision and best practice in safeguarding mental health for practitioners.

Summary points

  • Waiting lists for the treatment of burnout are growing, bringing pressures on mental health practitioners.
  •  A King’s College London review suggests that healthcare professionals of all types are poor at acknowledging and asking for help when they need it.
  • To avoid practitioner burnout some factors can be managed by the individual practitioner while others need to be addressed from an organisational perspective.
  • Self-care strategies that can help tend to fall in five areas: cognitive; physical; spiritual or philosophical; social; and verbal.

In most mental health and psychology teams and services it seems that client numbers are increasing year-on-year. This may be due to the work that has been done on trying to reduce the stigma of mental health issues, or there may generally be more mental health issues because of the pressures of modern life and the fast pace of change. It could also be due to the fact that many people in the working population find it hard to maintain their own work-life balance, which could be leading to potential burnout. Whatever the reason, it means that waiting lists for treatment are growing, which brings its own pressures. Mental health practitioners may be expected to see more clients and often find their workload increasing. All of this must have an impact on the practitioner and their well-being. The importance of practitioners’ ability to ensure that they stay well cannot be overstated. This article will go on to consider that.

Factors that increase the likelihood of burnout

In the helping professions there are many factors that can increase the likelihood of practitioner burnout. Some of these can be managed by the individual practitioner and some need to be addressed from an organisational perspective, thus occupational psychology becomes an important partner in dealing with issues of burnout. A review by King’s College London for the Department of Health highlighted several factors that this article will consider. These will be from an individual, and then an organisational, perspective.

The factors that could be influenced by the individual are:

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