Habits, routines and rituals can be the key to self-care for psychologists


Gareth Furber (BPsych(Hons)’02, PhD(ClinPsych)’07) is a psychologist and after a decade of working in child and adolescent mental health, took on the role of e-mental Health Project Officer for Health Counselling and Disability Services at Flinders University.

“Now my time is focused on writing about and teaching on the topics of mental health, wellbeing, productivity, self-care and behaviour change,” he says.

“I make the assumption that all of us want to be productive, happy (whatever that term means for you) and feel like we belong. As I learn more about how people achieve those things from the psychological literature and beyond, I share that via different communication channels.”

One of the projects he was involved with, the Good Vibes Experiment, is a Flinders student-driven campaign to promote mental health and wellbeing. In 2022, this program won a national tertiary sector award for Most Successful Wellbeing and Support Program. The innovative campaign has waived copyright on the resources and is available for non-profit organisations and education sectors to utilise throughout Australia.

This year the Australian Psychological Society has chosen Self-care for Psychologists as the theme for Psychology Week.

Psychologists who are seeing clients may be hearing really difficult stories and can be traumatised vicariously by the content that they’re hearing on a regular basis. They’re looking after the emotional health of others and thus need to be looking after their own emotional health. Furthermore, as a healthcare provider they have an ethical responsibility to care for their clients. So it’s important that psychologists also look after themselves so that they can continue to work sustainably over a long career.


What is self-care?

Gareth says, “If you think about your mental health or physical health or any aspect of your life, there are things outside of our control that impact us. Genetics, our environment, upbringing, some of the people we come into contact with or events we are exposed to.”

He continues, “Self-care is about the things we can influence. This is where we ask ourselves, ‘What are the choices and decisions that I’m making and are these working to improve the quality of my life? These choices may relate to our physical health or financial health in addition to our mental health. You can practice self-care in relation to any aspect of your life. Essentially it is about taking responsibility for and acting on the things over which you have some control.”


Gareth’s top-tips for self-care for psychologists

“Ideally self-care becomes a practice, and it can look like daily walks, meditation, or focusing on lifestyle factors like sleep, diet, physical activity or social connection,” says Gareth.

“For psychologists we know that including self-reflective practices like journalling or supervision is particularly helpful. As is anything that improves your ability to understand both yours and others’ emotions and others’ ways of seeing the world.”

“How can we develop good self-care practices? This is where habits, routines and rituals come into play.”

Habits are the small behaviours that become automatic, we usually don’t need to think too much about them. For psychologists this may be something as simple as taking a deep breath between appointments, or a walk in your lunchbreak.

Our routines are the things that do require us to be paying attention, because they’re usually a collection of things bound together. Self-care for some might look like developing a morning or evening routine. For example, my morning routine consists of walking, early light exposure, and listening to podcasts or music.

And our rituals are the routines that we’ve developed but these have a deeper sense of meaning attached to them. “They end up feeling more fundamental to who you are and how you live your life. My morning routine has become so ingrained now that it’s becoming a ritual. It makes me feel great and I miss it if I don’t do it,” he says.

“I liken starting self-care habits, routines and rituals to starting a savings account. You may only start with a few dollars, and it can be easy to feel like you’re not moving forward, but as you save more money each week, and compound interest kicks in, your bank balance grows.

“It’s okay to start small and build up those self-care habits, then maybe you’ll combine a few into a routine, and at some point they’ll develop into a deeper ritual.”

To find out more about Gareth’s work, join his Psychology and Health Forum or access further resources, you can visit garethfurber.com.

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Psychology

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