How to protect your physical and emotional wellbeing with self-care

Australian Psychological Society

To offer safe and effective care to clients, psychologists first need to look within and care for themselves.

Psychologists play a crucial role in helping others navigate their emotional and psychological challenges. However, amid the emotionally taxing demands of the profession, they often overlook their own wellbeing and neglect the importance of self-care.

More than 1 in 3 psychologists experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, according to research by the Australian National University conducted in December 2022. Meanwhile, less than 1 in 3 felt adequately prepared to handle the mental health needs of clients in the context of future disasters.

This Sunday marks the beginning of Psychology Week (29 October – 5 November) and this year’s theme is ‘self-care for psychologists’. 

“We understand that psychologists’ workloads continue increasing and that they won’t always have time to dedicate to themselves,” says APS President Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe.

“However, if you can spare a few moments, now is a great time to reflect on how you’re coping and what areas of your wellbeing might need more focus.”

Getting started with self-care 

Practising self-care has been shown to reduce the risk of burnout, build resilience and confidence, increase practitioner capacity for empathy, and strengthen relationships with clients and others. These are all outcomes that psychologists, clients and communities can benefit from.

As psychology professionals are aware, self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming or overwhelming. Try beginning with small, manageable activities. For example, take short breaks during your workday to practise deep breathing or mindfulness exercises. Starting with simple activities can make it easier to incorporate self-care into your daily routine, gradually expanding to more extended practices.

Self-care also doesn’t need to be expensive. Low-cost or free options include meditation, journaling or spending time in nature.

“In an emotionally taxing profession such as psychology, it’s especially important to practise self-care techniques that allow you to decompress, disconnect and recover,” says Dr Davis-McCabe.

Five self-care ideas

If you’re after some inspiration for how you might practice self-care, here are five tips to help mitigate the emotional impact of your work.

  1. Schedule time for self-care. Time constraints can be a significant obstacle to self-care, but we must treat it as a non-negotiable priority.

    Whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly, setting aside time for yourself, and scheduling it in your calendar, ensures you have moments to recharge and rejuvenate. Treat this time as sacred, just as you would for any other important appointment. 

  1. Debrief with a trusted person. Having an external person to confide in and discuss difficult cases with, beyond your official supervisor, can help psychologists process their emotions and detach from the stresses of their work.

    Creating a supportive network of like-minded individuals can also help to sustain self-care efforts. 

  1. Set boundaries. To avoid negative associations between personal space and work-related stress, it’s helpful to work in a neutral space and establish healthy boundaries with clients and colleagues to prevent excessive emotional involvement.


  1. Practice self-compassion. Psychologists often extend empathy and compassion to clients, but it’s important you treat yourselves with the same kindness and understanding.

    “Challenge any feelings of guilt surrounding self-care and remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish – it’s necessary for your wellbeing and effectiveness as a practitioner,” says Dr Davis-McCabe.

    “You might also consider communicating your self-care goals with those close to you so that they can understand and support your journey.” 

  1. Seek guidance and education. A lack of awareness or knowledge about self-care can be a barrier. Educate yourself about various practices that promote wellbeing. You could attend workshops, read books or seek guidance from professionals who specialise in self-care.

    You’re also welcome to start a conversation thread on PsyCommunity to gain advice and inspiration from your peers.

Join us in promoting psychologist self-care 

This Psychology Week, we encourage APS members to come together with peers and take the time to fill their own cup. This could involve hosting an event that brings self-care knowledge and tools to life. 

APS members, as well as organisations with an interest in psychology and community wellbeing, including schools, universities, workplaces, community health centres and hospitals, are encouraged to run events during the week. Some ideas include:

  • A morning or afternoon tea at your workplace or in a community venue. 

  • A speech or presentation to a local group or organisation.

  • A webinar for a specific group that outlines some self-care tips and the positive impact psychologists have on our community.

  • A talk to students about careers in psychology and managing the demands of the job.

  • Setting up a Psychology Week display in libraries, universities, local community centres, hospitals or offices.

You can also download a range of useful promotional materials, including:

A downloadable self-care checklist 

A digital social asset kit

A printable self-care poster

If you are keen to get together with other local psychologists to network or plan an event, contact your local APS Branch or start a discussion thread on PsyCommunity. Whether it’s a talk, an interactive gathering, or an insightful display, your efforts will contribute to a healthier psychology community.

A version of this article first appeared in the 2023 Spring Edition of InPsych.

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