Holiday Self-Compassion

By Dr Chris Irons

Clinical Psychologist 

Director, Balanced Minds

Working as a therapist or clinician is an amazing job. It’s a privilege to be trusted to hear the pain and vulnerabilities of the people we work with, and as a team, work to bring about helpful changes.

But this work is also demanding of us, emotionally and psychologically, and taking a holiday is an important component of therapist self-care and healthiness, giving space to slow down, recharge and return to work rested. 

However, for some therapists, it can be hard to take breaks and holidays. 

Holiday Coming Up? Pack your Self-Compassion

It’s holiday season! A time to look forward to some time to get in to your soothing system – to slow down, rest and recharge your battery. But as tantalising as this sounds, many therapists can find it hard to smoothly slip into the holiday mind-set.

There can be a number of blocks. For example, concerns that clients will be angry or upset with us for going away, or that they’ll be risky or suicidal whilst we’re away. Sometimes we can have a personalise sense that we’re letting them down, which in turn brings shame and/or guilt.

Holiday Self-Compassion

One way of helping with this is through compassion, and thinking about how we can balance the different flows of compassion. 

In Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), we talk about the three flows of compassion: the compassion we can have for others, compassion from others, and self-compassion.

A problem that we sometimes face as therapists is that the flow that we’ve cultivated the most is compassion to others. This makes sense of course, given our training and day-to-day job, but sometimes this flow becomes so automatic and comfortable that we end up flowing out too much. However, a second flow of compassion – receiving compassion from others – can be more tricky. This flow involves being able to seek out and receive compassion from others, but in comparison to the flow of compassion to others, this is often under-practiced and experienced. But it’s the third flow in particular – self-compassion – that is least familiar and underdeveloped, and consequentially, a block to therapists being able to look after themselves and take breaks.

Self-Compassion as the path to Self-Care: Holiday Self-Compassion

How does an understanding about the flows of compassion help with this? How can holiday self-compassion be useful? Well, it’s really about balance

First up, it can be useful to get a sense of your abilities in the three flows of compassion. Are you relatively even across each of these flows? Or do you find that whilst it’s easy to be compassionate to others, it’s much hard to be compassionate to yourself. To do this, it’s worth taking a short time to complete these online questionnaires looking at the three flows of compassion (the first three sets of questionnaires – The Compassionate Engagement and Action scale)


If, having completed these scales, you found that you’re out of balance, and in particular, that your level of self-compassion is low, it’s worth doing a bit of self-compassion practice in the lead up to your holiday. 

– here, our aim is to start engage in a number of steps: 

– tune in to how we’re feeling – for example, tired, stressed and worn out. Or maybe to notice those feelings that we’re letting down our clients by going away 

– set our intention to learn how to validate these feelings 

– practice tolerating these feelings – to be in their presence but remain grounded, so that our threat system can be online but not overwhelm us

to direct coming to ourselves – to see that like other people, we’re worthy of care, or rest, of a break
So what helps us to do this? Well, it’s worth taking some time to engage in one of our guided audio practices, or to take one of our compassion self-help courses!
Wishing you a restful break, and holiday self-compassion!

Dr Chris Irons, Director, Balanced Minds

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Our work is inspired by the work of Professor Paul Gilbert