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How I’m practicing self‑care to be a better therapist

Renée Daley, LCSWClinical Team

Stories | Mar 20, 2018

Just looking at my calendar makes me cringe. Between my full-time role at a fast-paced startup and back-to-back evening appointments with clients, some nights until 10 p.m., I feel like I am constantly chasing that elusive eight hours of sleep (that’s a thing, right?).  I barely have time to eat dinner or say hello to my partner, let alone take care of myself.

As mental health professionals, we help people develop ways to cope with the stressors that impact their lives.  We are familiar with “self-care” and “secondary trauma,” but we often forget to apply these principles ourselves.

March is National Social Work Month: I challenge myself, my colleagues, and all of you to look within and lead by example.  

By taking care of ourselves too, we become better clinicians, partners, parents, and friends.  It increases our ability to be empathetic and patient. It improves our overall mood and health.  I’m not saying it’s easy — just like our clients, we need help getting started and staying accountable for our own mental health. Here’s how to start.

  1. Establish your baseline. Self-care is a journey and it starts — just like anything else in our profession — by understanding our self-care baseline: do you already practice yoga or go for walks to mitigate stress? Or have you stopped doing those things, or never started? Trauma workbooks are a great place to pull assessments like this one to establish where you are already and inform your own self-care practices.
  2. Consider the results. What did you score high and low on? Were there any surprises?  Pick the top 3-5 areas that you scored low on, but that are important to you and your happiness — rank them in order of importance.
  3. Pick a focus area. Start with #1 on your list of focus areas: identify how can you incorporate this goal into your life over the next week. Will you have to give something up in order to make it happen?  Is it worth it? (Hopefully!)
  4. Commit to that one goal. It may be uncomfortable, but in time that will pass — your health and happiness are well worth it.
  5. Reflect. After a week, reflect back on the experience.  Was it hard to initially make it happen? How did it feel to actually take the time to do something for yourself?
  6. Repeat. Do the same activity again during the following week.  Feeling adventurous? Add another day where you take some time for number two on your list.  Every week, try to do something that leaves you feeling like you have taken care of you. It could be as simple as having dinner at home or finally going to that exercise class you’ve wanted to try.
  7. Assess and adjust. At the end of the month, take a look back on what you tried, what worked, what didn’t. Learn and re-iterate.  Continue to focus a little bit on YOU every week. I’ve found an accountability partner to help — you can check in on progress and encourage each other to make it happen.
  8. Be kind to yourself. It may not work every week and that is more than ok. Forgive yourself and try again. You can do it!

Not sure what self-care activity to choose?  Here are some ideas!

Mind Body Spirit
Take a moment and look around — notice the amazing things that exist everywhere Take a walk “Love thy self” — date night for just YOU
Meditate (plenty of apps for that! Check out Headspace, Sattva) Get more sleep Ask for help. We ALL need it
Embrace the power of silence Unleash your inner child — jump on a trampoline! Journal
Say “no!” (my personal favorite) Try yoga or a new exercise class Take a moment to FEEL
Goof off! Eat something AH-MAZING Write a letter forgiving yourself when things don’t happen
Be a little “selfish” — it’s not a bad thing Sex Feeling down? Call your favorite extravert and feed off the energy!
Separate yourself from negativity Meal plan Treat yourself!
Organize and PURGE! Indulge in a treat! Staycation!

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