Professional Psychology: Research and Practice
© 2000 by the American Psychological Association
December 2000 Vol. 31, No. 6, 710-713
For personal use only--not for distribution.
Practitioner-Tested, Research-Informed Strategies
John C. Norcross
Department of Psychology University of Scranton
Psychotherapists, by definition, study and modify human behavior. That is, we study and modify
humans. Psychological principles, methods, and research are rarely brought to bear on therapist
themselves, with the probable exception of our attempting to diagnose one another. Although
understandable and explicable on many levels, the paucity of systematic study on psychotherapists'
self-care is unsettling.
Self-care and self-change have occupied a sizeable portion of my professional career and, not
coincidentally, my personal life. Dr. Robert Brown and I have commissioned and edited articles for the
Self-Care Corner during the past year, for instance. Over the past 2 decades, colleagues and I have
conducted numerous studies to identify what distinguishes the self-change of mental health
professionals from that of educated laypersons, to survey practitioners about what they use and do not
use to soothe themselves, and to interview seasoned psychotherapists about their personal struggles
and salvations. We have taken the Socratic dicta of "know thyself" and "heal thyself" to heart–and to
the lab (for summaries of this research, see Brady, Healy, Norcross, & Guy, 1995 ; Brady, Norcross, &
Guy, 1995; Guy, Freudenberger, Farber, & Norcross, 1990 ; Norcross & Aboyoun, 1994 ; Norcross &
Guy, 1989 ; Norcross & Guy, in press ; Norcross, Strausser, & Missar, 1988 ; Prochaska, Norcross, &
DiClemente, 1995 ).
The resulting compilation of self-care strategies is clinician recommended, research informed, and
practitioner tested. In the scientist—practitioner tradition, we have tried to meld psychotherapists' in-
the-trenches recommendations with the nascent empirical findings. Here, in outline form, are 10
consensual self-care strategies, with a few illustrative examples from my own practice and life, as I
struggle to practice what I preach (and research):
Recognize the hazards of psychological practice.
Begin by saying it out loud: Psychotherapy is
often a grueling and demanding calling. A growing body of empirical research attests to the
negative toll exacted by a career in psychotherapy. Although each of us experience distress
differently, the literature points to moderate depression, mild anxiety, emotional exhaustion,
and disrupted relationships as the common residue of immersing ourselves in the inner worlds
of distressed and distressing people ( Brady, Healy, et al., 1995 ). In Freud's (1905/1933)
words, "No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that
inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the
struggle unscathed" (p. 184).
Perhaps the most significant benefit to be achieved from openly acknowledging the strains of