Therapists often wear many hats. And that’s just in their private practices. Many also teach, write, supervise students and give media interviews. They have families and many interests outside of psychology.
“With 6 kids, ages 16 to 5, a husband and home to care for, a private practice, and my many ‘side jobs,’ including running a non-profit, speaking, writing for my website, blog, and other people, doing some legal consultation, and writing a book, I like to say my life is ‘full,’” said Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and expert in postpartum mental health. She’s also active in her church and has commitments on Sundays and Wednesday evenings every week.
Joyce Marter, LCPC, a therapist and owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance, also has a lot on her plate. “I am a wife, a mother, a psychotherapist and owner of a group practice with nearly 50 therapists and five locations, a writer with a book in development, a public speaker, the Vice President of the Board of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association, and frequently serve as a psychological expert in the media.”
That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. In addition, Marter takes her kids to and from school, eats dinner with her family, has an active social life, vacations for at least six weeks every year and gets eight hours of sleep per night.
So what’s their secret? Below, Marter, Hibbert and other therapists spill the details on living a fulfilling life and getting things done.
1. They know their priorities.
Hibbert knows what matters most to her, and she focuses on those things first and foremost. “[This] allows me to prioritize my time and helps me know when to pull back from other things. If any of my top priorities are out of shape, I push off the others until things are in order again.”
Her top priorities are: “My relationship with God, my relationship with my husband, and my role as a mother and relationship with my kids.” Her work comes next. But this also has to match her mission: “to learn all I can and teach what I learn.”
Marter takes a similar approach. She starts off with a vision for her personal and professional lives. (For instance, you can create a vision board, she said.) “Then we need to align our priorities and intentions to support that vision. We need to focus our energy on the things that provide meaning, value and life energy and let go of the things that don’t.” She then sets clear goals and firm boundaries around her time, such as her work hours.
2. They have a formula for their days.
“It has taken me many years and several iterations to find a formula that worked for me,” said John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.
He sees clients either three or four days a week from late morning into the evening to accommodate his clients, many of whom are teens. “I work fairly long hours those days, but I enjoy the work.” The other days he works on his next book or with the media. For instance, he’s been on the Steve Harvey Show multiple times.
3. They protect family time.
Clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, wakes up early to make breakfast for his sons and drop them off at school. He comes home around 6 p.m. to have dinner with his family and eventually put his boys to bed.
“After the boys’ bedtime I enjoy the evening with my wife, which includes checking in with each other, talking about our future plans, and watching some reality TV cooking shows.”
Duffy also “[protect[s] nights and weekends for my wife, son and friends.”
4. They delegate.
When Hibbert needs more time to accomplish projects after school, she asks her older kids to watch the younger ones. She asks her husband to help with grocery shopping and dinner several nights a week. She also has a housekeeper come once a week. “[This] is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself!”
Marter outsources anything that doesn’t “provide personal meaning or value to me. In my business, I delegate the responsibilities that are not my strengths or passion.” At home, she outsources house cleaning and grocery shopping. This way she has time for what’s most important, such as hosting her kids’ play dates.
5. They have pets.
Having a dog actually makes my life more productive,” said Jeffrey Sumber, M.A., a psychotherapist, author and teacher. “I’m responsible to make sure he is well fed, walked and properly taken care of but this also helps punctuate activities in my day and organize tasks around set breaks in my process.”
6. They use activities to ground them.
Sumber uses the walks with his dog to map out his days and intentions.
It is often during my morning walk with Tashi that I run through my day in my mind, determining priorities and goals and create a visual for how the day will ideally play out. This walking meditation is functional as well as intentional and sets me off on a conscious trajectory into my day.
He also finds focus while making his morning coffee.
I also enjoy the process of my morning coffee. I grind the beans, pull the espresso shots and mix the Americano to my personal perfection. This takes me 10 minutes every morning and I might as well be repairing the space station tethered in deep space…I am very focused.
As I sip the coffee, I ease into my morning by sifting through emails (mostly deleting) and then send personal birthday messages to Facebook friends. I typically take time to prepare meals for the day and then set off to work.
Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Living with Depression, uses her senses to switch gears and get things done.
My typical day has me in the role of clinician, homemaker, professor, writer and woman. I know the metaphor of wearing “different hats” gets tossed around in shifting roles, but for me, it’s more of what’s in my hands that helps me get things done.
It’s as if my sense of touch transforms me into who I next need to be. My appointment book helps me shift into clinician mode. As soon as I touch it, I can feel myself move into a professional posture.
I have a home office, so in between patients, when I walk back into my home and I touch the doorknob, I’m into homemaker mode – cooking, doing laundry or tidying up the place.
When I pick up my lecture notebook, I’m into professor mode and readily head off to the local university to teach. And if I’m sitting at the keyboard, I easily shift into writer mode.
When I return home and settle into comfy clothes, I become just a woman again -connecting with my family and myself. I’ve always been a very sense-oriented person, and have found using touch as both a cue for change and a grounding way to cement my identity.
7. They stay fully present.
Howes focuses on being present in all his activities:
Freud said “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” I agree with that and try to make the most of both. I do my best to be fully present when I’m wearing either hat. I want to engage with my family, regardless of what is happening at work, and be fully present with my clients, regardless of what is going on at home. On my best days, I’m able to do both.
8. They practice self-care.
Marter always makes time for self-care, which helps her be more productive in other areas of her life.
I prioritize self-care (like rest, meditation, exercise and fun) so that I have the energy to manage all my responsibilities. I practice gratitude and positive thinking to facilitate the energy and confidence I need to achieve my dreams. I tap into my support network (friends, family, therapist, coach, colleagues, mentor, etc.) for feedback, wisdom and support in helping make my life vision a reality.
Hibbert practices her self-care routine first thing in the morning.
On a day-to-day basis, one of the best things I do is wake up before my kids so I can enjoy an hour just for me. I exercise, meditate, and study scriptures to start my day right. When I miss this time, life just doesn’t seem to run as smoothly.
The morning also designates self-care for Duffy. “I work out, meditate when I can, and get to the office early. I eat breakfast there, page through the paper, and clear my mind for a while before the chaos begins!”
Hibbert prioritizes sleep, which is crucial to her productivity and well-being.
For me, the other big key to getting anything done is sleep. If I’m not sleeping well (and I’m not a great sleeper in general), I can’t function well. I get grumpy and overwhelmed too easily. So, I focus on getting to bed as early as I can so I can get up early, and I try to “sleep in” on weekends, when I am given the chance.
When he has the time, Howes strums his guitar, plays hoops, or works on “creating the world’s next great pasta sauce.”
9. They pay attention to their energy levels.
Sometimes Marter lets her energy guide the projects she works on. “When I occasionally experience an ebb of energy, I let myself rest or do the tasks that are easy for me. When my energy is high, I make a concerted effort to carve out time to tackle tasks that are high priority but low urgency like writing my book.”
All of these clinicians lead fulfilling professional and personal lives. They know their priorities and do their best to protect them. They manage their time effectively, know when to delegate and make sure to be completely present at every point.