Ten Essential ways A Therapist Can Take Care of Themselves After Safety Planning with a Client

As mental health professionals, we carry an enormous responsibility – our clients’ lives often depend on the clinical decisions we make. This weight feels especially heavy when safety planning with a client experiencing suicidal ideation or self-harm urges. While our priority is always the client in these critical moments, we must not overlook our own self-care in the aftermath. 

As mental health therapists, ensuring our clients’ safety and wellbeing is one of our top priorities. When working with clients experiencing suicidal ideation, self-harm urges, substance misuse issues, or other high-risk behaviors, having a comprehensive safety plan in place can be life-saving.

The development of a safety plan should involve an open dialogue between the client and therapist, in which the risk factors are determined and strategies for crisis management are identified. The plan should be tailored to the individual’s specific needs and written in such a way that it can easily be referred back to if needed. It is also important to discuss how family or friends can support the client when they are in distress or need others to intervene for their safety.  Safety planning is an essential skill of psychotherapy and it can take a toll on the therapist.

Completing an intensive risk assessment and creating a robust safety plan leaves many therapists emotionally and physically drained. The vicarious trauma we absorb deserves our attention. Make time for recovery and follow these top 10 ways to take care of you while you take care of others:

– Process Your Emotions

Allow yourself to work through any difficult feelings that surface after safety planning. Fear, anxiety, sadness and helplessness are common. Journal about your experience, share it with a trusted colleague, or bring it to your own therapy. Don’t minimize your responses.

– Separate Your Self-Worth  

It’s easy to take on guilt after a client crisis, ruminating on what more you could have done. Counter this by reminding yourself that a client’s actions are not a reflection of your competency as a therapist. You did everything within your power.

– Reset with a Transition Ritual

After an intense session, take a moment before seeing your next client. Step outside, stretch, drink some water, listen to uplifting music. This quick reset helps you leave the previous interaction behind.

– Lean Into Your Support System  

Talk to loved ones, schedule a date night with your partner, make plans with friends – this is key after an emotionally taxing day. Spending time with your personal support system reminds you that you are cared for.

– Unplug and Get Restorative Rest

Resist the urge to overwork yourself after a tough week. Instead, log off on time, put away devices, and focus on relaxing activities before bed. Getting adequate sleep is essential when dealing with secondary trauma.

– Move Your Body

Release residual stress through exercise – take a walk, hit the gym, try a yoga class. Physical activity boosts feel-good endorphins and prevents burnout.

– Tap Into Creativity 

Painting, writing, playing music, baking – creative outlets provide a brain break and a different mode of processing. Use inspiration as an outlet, not distraction.

– Limit Alcohol and Drug Use

It’s tempting to self-medicate after challenging experiences, but substances can exacerbate stress. Keep them to a minimum, focusing instead on healthy coping strategies.

– Carve Out Recovery Time

Take a mental health day to recreate your energy. Spend time outdoors, get a massage, binge a favorite show – give yourself a break from professional responsibilities. 

– Get Ongoing Clinical Supervision

Debrief regularly with a supervisor to discuss reactions, reflect on skills, and get guidance. Don’t underestimate the value of this professional support.

The wellbeing of us therapists directly impacts the care we’re able to give our clients. By making self-care a priority – especially surrounding safety planning – we can continue showing up authentically and serving our clients with compassion. What are your go-to methods of self-care after a crisis?

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