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How Clinicians Balance Work and Life

When you’re passionate about your profession, balancing work with your personal life can get tricky. It gets even trickier when your work requires you to wear many hats.

That’s why we talked to several clinicians who not only have busy practices but also write books, teach, talk to the media and give lectures around the country — just to name a few. They reveal how they make time for both professional and personal pursuits and navigate the obstacles that inevitably come up.

Balancing Work & Life

For Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of several books on ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals, work is just another significant part of life. “My work is an important part of my life — along with my relationships, my health, and my community activities — so I look at it as ‘how can I balance all aspects of my life?’”

She follows Hettler’s “6 Dimensions of Wellness Model,” which consists of emotional wellness; occupational wellness; physical wellness; social wellness; intellectual wellness; and spiritual wellness. She regularly considers whether she’s meeting her needs in each of these areas. If she’s not, then she identifies the specific changes she can make.

Psychotherapist and author Jeffrey Sumber , M.A., also doesn’t delineate work and life. Instead, he sees the need for “a large notion of balance.” He evaluates his days in their entirety by considering: “What will it take for me to feel centered and relaxed in my day? How much am I giving versus receiving? Do I have undefined ‘me’ time?” He added, “Free time is truly how I define wealth, so the more opportunities for free time in my day, the more successful I feel.”

John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, reflects on his values and then drafts a personal mission statement. His current mission statement is “To live fully and joyfully, making full use of my gifts and talents.” From there, Duffy creates his goals and action plans.

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook, balances a thriving practice with a four-year-old. Since his work requires staying past five o’clock, Tuckman makes the most of his mornings with his wife and son. He also avoids working on the weekends to enjoy more family time.

For Kim Boivin, MEd, a registered clinical counselor at Positive Change Counseling Services in Vancouver, BC, Canada, the right schedule also is key. “I began to experience more work-life balance when I created a weekly schedule that works well for me and committed to it.” She works four days a week and sees five clients max each day. “I find this work schedule gives me enough time and energy to work with clients with enthusiasm as well as to be able to enjoy other areas of my life.”

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Boivin also doesn’t over-identify as a therapist. “I enjoy my work as a therapist and I see it as part of me but it’s not all of me,” she said. She follows the advice of a former professor who emphasized the importance of having a life outside of work. “I have organized my life so that I have time and space available every week to meet with family [and] friends and have fun.”

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, psychotherapist and author of Finding Love Again: Six Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, keeps clear-cut boundaries between work and life. At home, she doesn’t answer her phone until the kids go to bed. She also eats dinner with her family every weeknight and doesn’t work on vacation.

For Orbuch self-care is one of the most valuable ways she copes with the potential stress of balancing work and life. That’s how she’s able to perform her best in all areas of her life.

Overcoming Work-Life Obstacles

Continuous demands. The hardest part of making time for both professional and personal pursuits is “The feeling that there are always unfulfilled demands on both sides, no matter what I do,” Tuckman said.

He remedies this by remembering the bigger picture. For instance, he reminds himself that right now his son requires more hands-on attention than he will in the future. And that’ll mean more together time with his wife and more alone time to pursue interests. “By reminding myself of the bigger picture and that nothing in life stays the same forever, I can enjoy the good parts of this stage now.”

Loving your work — too much. Enjoying your work can become an obstacle. According to Tuckman, “The line between work and play becomes much blurrier and it’s easy to talk oneself into justifying some work activity as being somewhat a ‘fun’ activity.” But as he said, “it isn’t quite the same as doing something purely recreational, so it’s important to make time for those, too.”

Lack of time for self-care. For Orbuch self-care, including getting enough sleep, is vital. But finding the time isn’t easy. She puts self-care on her schedule and typically catches up on sleep on Sundays.

Saying no to extra tasks. “It is hard to say no to additional responsibilities, but I have to,” Orbuch said. She tries to “say no to friends, children and to work obligations that pile on the pressure and deadlines.”

While some people may not like it, being overwhelmed makes you more scattered and less effective. “It is better to do a few things well, than many things not well,” she said.

Sarkis feels the same way. “You say no to what is not fulfilling you or making your life better, and that frees up time for what makes you a happier and more well-balanced person.”

Time for enjoyable pursuits. Sarkis can have a tough time fitting in all the activities she enjoys into her life. She overcomes this hurdle by incorporating fun activities wherever she can. For instance, when she goes on business trips, she often stays several extra days to explore the sights.

Working weekends. “I used to work every Saturday, but then I noticed that sometimes I was missing out on opportunities to develop personal pursuits on the weekend,” Boivin said. She started taking one Saturday off each month.

Sticking to the same routine. Another challenge for Boivin is adjusting an already set routine. She continuously re-evaluates her schedule and tries to remain flexible.

Unplugging. Duffy has a hard time limiting his professional availability. “Most of us in this field with busy practices find that there are always calls to return, reports to read and/or write, e-mails to go through,” he said.

He picks a time in the evening when he turns off his phone and computer, so he’s truly “off the clock.” Not only does this let him spend quality time with his family but it also makes him more effective and available the next day. Plus, he decides ahead of time the number of hours he’ll be available to clients each week. This helps him avoid both preparing for work and working too much.

How Clinicians Balance Work and Life

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). How Clinicians Balance Work and Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
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