Therapist Reassuring Patient

How to stay connected when I feel disconnected

As a therapist, feeling disconnected in a session is such an uneasy feeling.  There is so much guilt, shame, and worry that goes along with missing what your patient said. Our number one job is to listen, right?! Disconnecting in our work happens to all of us at one time or another; however, when it happens more than just once in a while, it can be a sign that disengagement is happening for us to the extent that it is making us less effective at attuning, remaining focused, and being able to engage in our client sessions.  

“Cope ahead.”

We say it all the time to our clients, and we can say it to ourselves too.  What is the plan?

What can I do today to help with disengagement?

  1. First step is recognizing it and giving yourself the space to manage it and work through it.  Notice the signs and symptoms, have compassion and patience for yourself, and give yourself time.
  2. Next, look at your schedule and identify what may be contributing to your fatigue.  For instance, maybe your challenging sessions are towards the end of your day versus the beginning when your energy is stronger.  Or maybe you are packing a couple of days full of sessions, making it hard to bounce back between long days.  
  3. Finally, make some effective decisions. Is there anything practical you can do to help manage your current disengagement?  Can you move some sessions or work days around to better meet your energy levels and mental wellbeing?  

While trying these three things can help you figure out how to manage today, here are some signs that disengagement may be becoming a barrier to effectiveness and something you need to attend to:

  1. You find it hard to pay attention, even after rest or time off.
  2. You feel Compassion Fatigue, a state where you are losing the ability to remain compassionate and instead feel judgmental or irritable.
  3. You feel exhausted at midday or in the middle of the week.

And, since we are not just our professional selves but also lead personal lives, here are signs that your personal life may be impacted by disengagement:

  1. You feel like you want to be alone or hide more than you want to be with others or loved ones.
  2. You are not able to engage or enjoy conversations.
  3. You have no energy or time for hobbies or new activities.
  4. You find it hard to maintain a routine.

If more than one or two of these professional or personal signs of disengagement resonate with you, it is important to seek support and help. Disengagement may also be related to depression, burnout, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

Even though as therapists we think we are the one in the room who is supposed to have it all together, we don’t, and we don’t have to.  And now, during the pandemic, healthcare workers are even more vulnerable to mental health challenges and illness.  Seek your own therapy, support group, connection, or community of supportive friends or family to help you get through the challenging times.

Spring and Winter months are the hardest times of the year for those who face mental health disorders. When you feel more stress and strain as a provider during these months, it will help to recognize that acuity, risk, conflict, and stress are on the rise for all of us at these times, that most of those who seek care will come to care with more needs and stressors, AKA Seasonal Affective Disorder.  These seasonal stressors will have a direct impact on you as the provider, not to mention on your personal wellness. Don’t forget you too are a part of the human race and the same seasonal changes, conflict, stressors, and social pressures that affect your patients will also affect you.  

Even if practical energy management steps can help you cope with disengagement in the short-term, it is helpful to reach out for support, consultation, or therapy to help you manage the long term.  You are important, essential, and here for a reason.  You belong and the world needs your talents and strengths.  Even a warrior needs help and time to heal.  

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