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Managing your work-life balance: private practice vs. inhouse

Mar 09, 2023

It’s no secret that therapists have a tendency to take their work home with them. You spend the best part of your days supporting people through some of the toughest times – and greatest challenges – of their lives. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, and you wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China – but it does leave you rather susceptible to burnout. And that’s never a good thing.


You probably advise many a client of the importance of striking a healthy work-life balance. Our careers are an essential part of our identities, and having a strong sense of purpose is a cornerstone of good mental health. But work shouldn’t be everything. It’s crucial that we make time for our family, our friends, our hobbies, our interests, our downtime, and our health – both mental, and physical.


Managing your work-life balance can look very different depending on your employment status, but whether you’re employed as a mental health professional or you run your own show, there are certain areas you should be mindful of.


How to manage your work-life balance when you’re employed


The benefits of working for someone else often (but not always) include paid sick leave, pensions contributions, paid holiday, and someone else to share in the workload. Those things can take a great weight off your mind.


You can go on holiday without worrying about your practice falling apart; you can prioritise yourself if you’re unwell; you can plan for the future with a touch more stability, and you have the added bonus of working as part of a team. These things are all really good for your mental and physical health. However, being employed does have some drawbacks.


When you work for someone else, you rarely get to set your own hours, which means you’re always working to someone else’s schedule. It’s also unlikely that you get to choose which clients you work with, and you’re usually balancing holiday requests with other people in your team.


If you want to achieve a healthy work-life balance as an employed mental health professional, it’s important to set yourself some boundaries. At the end of the working day, you leave work at work. If it’s not your business, you won’t feel the benefits of putting in unpaid hours or sitting up all night worrying about workplace issues.


You should also make sure you take all of the holiday you’re entitled to: there are no prizes for burnout, and forfeiting holiday is a stepping stone towards burnout for sure.


How to manage your work-life balance when you’re self-employed


If you work in private practice, you probably started out in an employed role – which means you’ll already understand the great many benefits that come with working for yourself; along with the challenges.


When you work for yourself, you’re your own boss. This can really help when it comes to creating a healthy work-life balance, because you get to:


  • Choose your own hours
  • Choose your own clients
  • Decide how many clients you want to take on
  • Decide which (and how many) days you want to work


Of course some of that will be influenced by your financial circumstances, and how much you need to earn (and therefore how much you need to work) to maintain your lifestyle. But in the main, self-employment is the Holy Grail for achieving work-life balance.


If you’re careful, that is.


When you work for yourself, there ARE prizes for working long hours: more time on your business leads to more clients and therefore more money. But (and this is a big but), working too many hours, and failing to switch off, can send you into a spiral that ultimately leads to exhaustion, burnout, and a loss of passion in your work.


That’s not a place you ever want to get to – so how do you look after yourself when you’re self-employed?


  • Set boundaries: Boundaries aren’t just for employed therapists. In fact, they’re even more important when you’re running your own business. If you want to protect your home life, it’s crucial that you set yourself a cut off time – which is when you finish work for the day, and don’t so much as check your emails until the next working day.


  • Take time off: When you work for yourself, you don’t get to take paid holiday or sick leave. It’s one of the greatest drawbacks of being self-employed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time off. Whether you’re under the weather or simply need a few holidays to get you through the year with a spring in your step, you need to give yourself adequate time away from work. Put money into your savings every month to help cover these periods.


  • Maintain connections: Working for yourself can be a lonely business, particularly if you’re a one-man-band. Without colleagues to call on, it’s easier to fall into the trap of overworking. Join some networks to build connections with other people in your position and prioritise meeting up with friends and family in all that time off you’re going to give yourself.


No matter what your working set-up, you are worthy of investment. Look after yourself, put your own health first, and never lose sight of your life outside of work.   


Natasha Page Founder of My Little Therapy Box 




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