This is the work we are trained to do. We are trained to sit with that pain, to assist others in finding their own way out of it and to create a space that is safe for them to do this work. It really is beautiful watching the triumph of the human spirit. But it is also emotionally draining, heavy and sometimes taxing work. Our goal is to assist clients in managing difficult emotions and navigating life’s challenges, but in doing so we can pay a heavy price. Developing a self care regimen is the best strategy for ensuring that this work doesn't take it's toll.
10 tips for getting started with self care.
The best time to build a self care regimen is before you get started with clinical work…the second best time is as soon as you see things are going south. Play around with a few of these ideas and see which ones might work for you:
- Have two kinds of social networks. One that is professional in nature where you can process the emotional impact of difficult cases and another that is completely unrelated to your work.
- Cross train by putting your professional skills to work in an environment that is completely unrelated to clinical work.
- Create patterns of self care that really work for you (exercise, good nutrition and sound sleep habits). Build these patterns in as a consistent life style that you maintain even when you are feeling fine.
- Work on your professional boundaries, so that you are processing difficult content and not continually bringing elements of this work home.
- Develop a few affirmations that remind you to keep a healthy perspective about your work, your clients and the human condition in general.
- Commit to your own personal growth and development and celebrate your accomplishments along with way.
- Build in experiences that cultivate joy and bliss (vacation, massage, date night etc) so that you continually have something wonderful to look forward to.
- Use the therapeutic hour to your advantage. Try taking a quiet moment between sessions to breathe, listen to soft music and to somehow replenish yourself.
- Schedule more challenging clients at the beginning of the day when you are still fresh, to avoid feeling drained at the end of the day.
- Follow others in our field that are doing awesome work. Let them inspire to stretch your professional horizons.
All behavioral health professionals hear about self care, but all too often we feel invincible. We dive completely in to doing this work without building up a strong system for managing its inevitable effects. This is particularly true for clinicians that are going in to a solo private practice where isolation and efforts to balance clinical work with learning new business skills can make for a unique kind of overwhelm.
Self Awareness as Self Care
Whenever someone talks to me of going in to private practice, I always inquire about self care. Have you learned yourself well enough to know when you need a break? See, true self care starts with self awareness. We are all so unique and have different capacities for tolerating stress. To be effective over the long haul, you must learn to pay attention to your patterns so you can tell when you are in too deep. Sometimes it shows up as a shift in our sleeping or eating. For others, it might be forgetfulness or an increasing negative perspective.
When you take good care of yourself, you ensure that you can be fully available to give clients your best AND you provide them with a living breathing example of an emotionally healthy human being. That is a powerful testimony to the importance of our work.
Feel free to share what you do to take good care of yourself. If you haven’t already developed a pattern that works, now is a great time. Perhaps you can use some of the examples in this article or in the comments of this post to get you started.