What is Inside Out doing dedicating an issue to Stress and Burnout? We felt that the subject was relevant to the practice of psychotherapy, both from the point of view of the treatment of the client who suffers from stress and burnout and the psychotherapist who may also suffer from it. What stresses are psychotherapists themselves under and does this contribute to burnout in some cases? Psychotherapy can be a dangerous profession. The Wounded Healer can have his or her old wounds reopened by the client. Perhaps it is for the good. It forces the psychotherapist to reflect and take action. Freud said that continual self-analysis was needed on the part of the psychotherapist. Jung said psychotherapists can only hope to put right in others, what they have put right in themselves. More graphically he said that the doctor with a running abscess was unfit to perform a surgical operation.
Should the psychotherapist be immune to stress and, when it comes to burnout, flameproof? It is hardly possible. Should the psychotherapist have a flinty exterior, a carapace devoid of emotion and warmth? How deep should the psychotherapist’s empathic response go? Is it truly possible to be a spectator in the client’s world and remain unaffected by it? Each “school” of counselling, psychotherapy or analysis and each individual practitioner will have their own responses to these points. We observe ourselves in the therapeutic session as much as we observe the client. Because of our experience of life, our training, our own lengthy period as a client in psychotherapy and our supervision we have a better knowledge of our own processes than the client has of theirs.
Psychotherapists’ Codes of Ethics stress the need for practitioners to monitor their own mental health. For example, The Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy (IAHIP) says
Psychotherapists should not practise when their professional judgement is impaired by excessive stress … When they become aware of personal problems that may affect their competence they shall seek appropriate professional assistance to determine whether they should limit, suspend or terminate their professional activity.
The Irish Association for Counselling and Therapy (IACT) says
Counsellors have a responsibility to monitor their mental health and well-being, and be prepared to seek help and/or withdraw from counselling either temporarily or permanently, if their ability to help clients is impaired.
Analytical Psychotherapists of Ireland (API) says
Analytical Psychotherapists monitor their own psychic health and refrain from practising when necessary. Analytical Psychotherapists help each other in this regard.
We help our clients by taking sufficient rest and nourishment for the body, mind, spirit and soul; by play and recreation; by not seeing too many clients in a day; by leading full and effective lives, through avoiding excessive stress, and through the continual development and learning we get from supervision. The next Edition of Inside Out will be dedicated to supervision. The Editors welcome your articles, letters, comments, views and opinions on this important subject.