Friday, February 10, 2012

Recharging Your Batteries (Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?)

Therapy can be draining. It's draining for clients to do the emotional work necessary for change, to "wrestle with their inner demons." However, it may be even more draining for clinicians. Because the therapeutic relationship is unidirectional - for the benefit of the client, not the clinician - energy flows from us to our clients...but not vice versa. We accompany our clients into their emotional struggles while keeping both our clients and ourselves anchored, but do not receive emotional support in the process. Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of rewards to doing this work - but recharging our emotional batteries is not one of them.

Therefore, if we're going to continue lending strength and energy to our clients, we have to find ways to recharge our own batteries. Taking care of our physical needs helps - in other words, getting enough sleep, food, exercise, etc. Getting support also helps; we may get it from colleagues, supervision, friends and family, or our own therapist. However, the degree to which support is helpful, or the degree of support that is helpful, seems to depend quite heavily on whether we are extroverts or introverts.

Pop culture sometimes misconstrues these personality traits, describing extroverts as outgoing, and introverts as shy. In reality, extroversion and introversion have little to do with whether one is willing or able to socialize. Instead, these traits relate to whether socializing feeds or depletes our energy. Extroverts are energized by social gatherings, and leave feeling like their batteries have been recharged. Introverts are the opposite: social gatherings sap their energy, and they leave feeling more drained.

While it might seem logical that extroverts are more likely to become therapists than introverts, I have not found that to be true. I know many people who work in various human services who are introverts - myself included. It does present a challenge, however: work that is already draining may be rendered more draining by its social nature.

We may compensate by spending more of our free time alone or with close others...but introverts, like all people, also need social support, and so we need to spend at least some of our free time nurturing real-life relationships. It can be hard to strike the right balance to support our work, our need for support, and our need to recharge our batteries. Extroverts may face a similar challenge in trying to balance their need to recharge through social contact with the need for self-reflection and centering that therapeutic work also requires. In both cases, it is crucial to pay attention to our own inner state, energy levels, and needs.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you experience any difficulty striking the right balance between competing needs? How do you recharge your batteries?

3 comments:

  1. Wow, you've touched on an issue that is near and dear to my heart. When I got my first job straight out of college I was surprised by how exhausted I was. I found myself going into work and wishing I didn't have to talk to patients. I wanted more than anything to just be left alone.

    I am definitely an introvert and it has taken me some time to negotiate the balance of patient, self, family, and friend time. It is absolutely necessary though. I would have burnt out a long time ago if I hadn't been able to find a balance.

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  2. Thanks for the comment. It's a hard balance to find, but the only way to avoid burnout is to recognize and respond to our own need to "recharge our batteries."

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