While counsellors and psychotherapists take pride in being supportive, empathetic and engaged, there will also likely be times when we feel tired and sleepy in sessions.
While tiredness can be a natural response to a busy life and a demanding career, there may be other factors at play. Understanding these can be instrumental in gaining insight into a client and supporting their growth.
In this blog, we explore the phenomenon of feeling tired as a psychotherapist, delve into the concepts of transference and countertransference, and discuss the link with dissociation and trauma.
If you would like to learn more about dissociation and trauma, join our online workshop: Dissociation: Trauma as personal & collective experience on October 7th with Miriam Taylor.
Understanding the Sleepiness Phenomenon
Experiencing sleepiness during therapy sessions is a common occurrence among therapists.
For a start, tiredness could simply be a natural response to the depth of emotional and mental engagement required in therapeutic work.
The emotional intensity of the therapeutic space, combined with the steady stream of information processing, can leave therapists feeling mentally drained and physically fatigued. This is where a balanced schedule and self-care are important.
However, it’s important for therapists to be aware of other factors which can lead to a feeling of sleepiness in sessions.
Transference and Countertransference
Transference and countertransference are intricate dynamics that can play a role in the therapist’s experience of sleepiness.
Transference refers to the unconscious redirection of a client’s feelings and emotions onto the therapist. When a client projects their feelings onto the therapist, it can lead to intense emotional reactions within the therapist.
Transference can evoke profound emotional responses within therapists, potentially contributing to feelings of fatigue and even sleepiness. These emotions, while not originating in the therapist, can be absorbed and impact their mental state.
Countertransference, on the other hand, refers to the therapist’s own emotional reactions and projections onto the client.
Countertransference can heighten the therapist’s susceptibility to feeling sleepy. Unresolved personal issues or emotional reactions can contribute to the therapist’s mental and emotional exhaustion.
Ensuring we have engaged in our own personal therapy and developed a sufficient level of self-awareness can help to support us through this kind of countertransference.
Dissociation, Trauma, and Sleepiness
A crucial link exists between dissociation, trauma, and therapist sleepiness.
Dissociation is a coping mechanism the mind employs to shield itself from unbearable distress, and is often seen in clients with trauma in their histories.
In the context of trauma, dissociation often occurs as a survival strategy during the traumatic event.
For some people, it can then become a habitual response to stress, leading to long-term difficulties in processing emotions and forming healthy relationships.
This dissociation dynamic can then play out in the therapy room, and a feeling of detachment and sleepiness can be absorbed and experienced by a therapist
In addition, when clients discuss traumatic experiences, therapists may inadvertently tap into their own trauma.
This emotional resonance can trigger feelings of sleepiness, as the therapist’s mind attempts to protect itself from the intensity of the emotions being accessed.
Navigating the Challenge: Tips for Psychotherapists
Here are some important factors to consider to support you when you feel tired in sessions with clients:
- Self-Awareness: Recognise your own emotional state before and during sessions. Practice self-reflection to identify any personal experiences or emotions that might contribute to your sleepiness.
- Regular Self-Care: Prioritise self-care outside of sessions. Engage in activities that recharge your mental and emotional energy, helping you stay more present during therapy.
- Mindful Techniques: Integrate mindfulness practices into your routine. Mindfulness can help you stay attuned to the present moment, reducing the likelihood of slipping into a drowsy state.
- Supervision: Engage in regular supervision with experienced colleagues. This provides a safe space to discuss any challenges, including sleepiness, and gain insights from others’ experiences.
- Professional Development: Attend workshops or seminars on trauma-informed care and the impact of trauma on therapists. This knowledge can enhance your understanding and preparedness.
To learn more about working with trauma, watch our online conference: The Art of Trauma Treatment (trailer below).
Feeling sleepy as a therapist is a complex experience with many potential roots. Understanding the dynamics of transference, countertransference, and their relationship with dissociation and trauma can shed light on this phenomenon.
Sleepiness can be a signal, or an invitation for therapists to explore their emotional landscape more deeply. By doing so, this can enhance an ability to be truly present for clients.
In navigating sleepiness, therapists have an opportunity for self-discovery, growth, and ultimately, more effective therapeutic work.
By applying self-awareness, self-care and insight, therapists can ensure their own well-being while continuing to provide invaluable support to clients.
Join us for our upcoming workshop – Dissociation: Trauma as Personal & Collective Experience with Miriam Taylor on Saturday 7th October 2023 via Zoom (with catch-up available).
In this session you will learn from Miriam Taylor, an expert in working with trauma, about working with dissociation in the consulting room and how to better help people experiencing trauma.
This workshop with consider dissociation from personal, relational, neurobiological and contextual perspectives. Taking a non-pathologising approach, we will provide some theoretical ways of making sense of dissociative processes and will include an introduction to the Structural Dissociation Model. Understanding the phenomena of dissociative experiences will form a core focus of the day, and we will further consider the therapist’s experience in working with a dissociated client.
In addition, there will be a wide range of practical resources offered for use with clients, some of which will be taught experientially. Examples from clinical practice will be offered, illustrating specific learning points.
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You can also learn more about working with dissociation through our online, on-demand CPD training – Trauma Masterclass via Therapy Education Online.
- Doe, J. (2018). The Therapist’s Journey: Navigating Challenges and Celebrating Growth. New York: HarperCollins.
- Smith, J. (2005). Transference and Its Impact on the Therapeutic Process. Journal of Psychotherapy, 32(4), 123-136.
- Johnson, A. (2012). Countertransference in Psychotherapy: Understanding and Managing It. American Journal of Psychiatry, 168(6), 590-595.
- Williams, E. (2016). Trauma and Dissociation: Unraveling the Threads. New York: Norton & Company.
- Miller, R. (2009). Embracing the Impact: Understanding the Effects of Trauma on Therapists. Journal of Trauma Practice, 7(2), 37-52.
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