As the summer approaches, it’s a great time to make time for yourself. We are so focused on helping others that we often neglect our own needs. I am thoroughly convinced that our efficacy as professionals is contingent upon the extent to which we take care of ourselves personally. This mindset doesn’t always get the level of support that it should: agencies and mental health organizations seem unduly focused on pushing the limits of workers’ productivity and the equivalent of “billable hours.” Clinicians are obligated to account for every minute of their day, with the expectation that the focus is always on clients. I have heard from more and more colleagues who are feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated at work, and who are not encouraged to take the time they need to re-group and re-ground after difficult client sessions.
Despite the fact that there may be little external support for increased self-care, I urge my colleagues to find small ways, throughout the workday, to re-energize and attend to legitimate personal needs that often get pushed to the side. Whenever I give workshops on self-care, I ask to see a show of hands for the following questions: “How many of you skip a meal during the day because you are busy tending to your clients?” “How many of you ignore a headache, rather than stopping to take Advil, because you are too busy at work?” “How many of you put off going to the bathroom because you are tied up with client’s issues”? Although the questions get a laugh, every hand is raised!
If we don’t give ourselves permission to take a break, eat lunch, close our office door and just breath for a minute, it won’t happen. A whole third of my upcoming book, “Treating Self-Destructive Behaviors in Traumatized Clients: A Clinician’s Guide,” is dedicated to clinician self-care. Given the complexities of treating addictions, eating disorders and self-mutilation, it is imperative that we focus on ourselves in order to stay effective in our work. Here are some simple things to try throughout the day:
- Download a favorite soothing picture onto your computer’s screen saver and your cell phone, or have a postcard-sized copy of it on your desk. In between each client, stop and look at it, allowing yourself to smile and take in all of the sensory memories of the image.
- Aromatherapy is a great way to re-ground throughout the day. You can use scented hand lotion or soap,; an unlit votif candle ; the fragrance of a favorite teabag; a scarf or scrap of fabric that has your significant other’s cologne or perfume on it.
- Close your office door (or hide out in the bathroom if you have to!) and allow yourself to just breath deeply five times. Put your hand on your belly or chest so you connect with your body- feeling each inhalation and exhalation. Pair the breath with words of comfort.
Here’s a great recommendation for an easy summer reading book, “The Resilient Clinician,” by Robert Wicks. It offers many wonderful ideas for clinician self-care, and emphasizes the absolute importance of making the time to attend to our own needs. Remember: take care of YOU!