This is easier to notice in clients that you have a pre-existing relationship with and are well attuned to. Signs to look out for in clients that you know well include any deviation from their norm / baseline. For example: reduced attendance, motivation or performance (not otherwise explained by a medical condition), over exercising, sudden changes in food consumption or noticeable changes to their mood / affect or personal hygiene / grooming. With new clients this may be harder as you are less likely to have established a good sense of their baseline, which is why a comprehensive initial assessment and background history is vital. Include questions about current or historical mental health diagnoses.
With empathy and understanding. Validate that what they are experiencing is hard and support them to seek professional support. One of the most accessible pathways for evidence-based treatment in Australia is via a GP who can develop a Mental Health Care Plan and provide a referral to a suitable Psychologist or Mental Health Social Worker. Avoid overt self-disclosure, despite the best intentions behind “when I was going though xyz….” As this type of dialogue immediately takes the focus off the client’s own experience and they are likely to shut down and feel invalidated.
Establish and reinforce your boundaries. The focus of your role is centred around supporting your clients to achieve their health and fitness goals. The concept of ‘slippage’ occurs when you find conversations regularly deviating too far away from the scope of your role. Refer out when needed. Another useful technique for fitpros to practise is the mindful transition from work to home. After leaving work, give yourself a set time or distance limit to process your day (e.g., the drive / train trip home) and then mentally leave it there, you can pick it up on the way back into work if you need to. Change your clothes, have a shower etc to help reframe your mindset into home life and be present.
With compassion and resources. Gently let them know you have noticed a change; they don’t seem their selves and ask if they are okay. It can be helpful to provide resources for support outside of their regular GP. Lifeline (ph. 13 11 14) also have a 24 hour text service as well 0477 13 11 14. It is recommended you save these numbers in your phone contacts so that you can share them directly with people in need.
Again, a deviation from your personal norm. Changes to mood, sleep, appetite, hygiene and grooming. Neglecting interests / previously pleasurable activities and social withdrawal are all signs that need paying attention to. Burn out looks like a persistent, accumulative negative change to how you feel about work. Behaviours to look out for include attempts to avoid work (not wanting to go in, taking longer to respond to your clients etc), or avoiding upskilling (reading, listening to your regular podcasts, not attending professional development opportunities). All the above are red flags that should lead you to seek support from your GP or other mental health professional.
Based on the Mid-North Coast of NSW, Jodi Wittenberg is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice. She is also an EMDR Therapist with a special interest in working with adults impacted by trauma including first responders and Defence Force personnel.