This blog is dedicated to mental health providers and ANYONE who feels that self care is a luxury...
Self-care has become a buzzword in our culture recently, but it is often synonymous with things like manicures, massages, and facials. However, the more I deliver therapy services, the more I understand that, while facials and manicures are great and can be a form of self-care, it is not the foundation. What I have come to understand is that true self-care is enforcing boundaries by asking for what you want and need.
People often come into therapy because they are in need of support, guidance and help. In the therapy environment, it may seem as though there is no room for the therapist to ask for what you need and want from people who are coming to you for help. But nothing is farther from the truth. By modeling effective enforcement of boundaries by asking for help, we are modeling for clients what it looks like to be an advocate for your own mental health.
So how is this done? Consider the following: Burnout is real!
My assumption is that most therapists in practice had a dream of serving their communities in a way that was meaningful. They had a passion for it. But once you are in this space, on your own, working for yourself, you quickly find that there is so much more than just working with individual clients that goes into managing your own practice. If you are not careful, burnout could be something that pulls you away from your fullest potential in private practice and could possibly burn you out of the field for good!
For me, self-care is something that allows me to keep my doors open and to continue to work with the communities and populations that I enjoy working with.
What most people do not talk about is that self-care does require sacrifice.
Self-care feels and sounds nice, warm and fuzzy, at least that was what I thought it was. I now know that self-care requires clear, direct communication, and not only a setting of, but enforcing of boundaries. If you are a giver or like to please people, this can be quite challenging. What I now know about self-care is that this sacrifice for self-preservation, mental and emotional wellness must happen. If neglected, burnout will set in, which can lead to many other problems such as, but not limited to, irritability, frustration, anxiety, depression, and heaven forbid, a business that is struggling. Or one that feels like a burden, or just doesn't make it at all.
Ask for help as well as what you need and want: Remember when I mentioned previously that self-care requires sacrifice? Here is where that sacrifice comes in.
There are many reasons that people find it difficult to ask for help. Maybe they do not want to appear weak, maybe they feel that they will be disappointed, maybe they feel that no one will do things the way they want etc. No matter what the reason, asking for help needs to happen to practice self-care.
As a therapist in private practice, this might mean:
Paying someone to do the tasks that you do not have time to figure out or manage such as billing and scheduling.
Enforcing late cancel and no-show fees.
Asking the client to be an active participant in the therapy relationship.
Not adding that extra client that says “I need to see you now!” on an already full day of sessions.
It could mean scheduling a lunch break every day or blocking time to do your administrative tasks weekly.
It could even mean that you, as a therapist, go to therapy and/or find other therapists that you can connect and consult with.
Although doing these things listed above can feel challenging and uncomfortable, these sacrifices are important to real self-care. If you find it difficult to implement any of these skills, consider what could happen if you do not. As the saying goes, you are not an unlimited well for others to drink from. The well will run dry if it is tapped into too often, not replenished, or resources are not rationed and saved.
Self-check-ins are a MUST! Have you ever experienced the feeling of being okay
until you’re not OK? I know I have! What this tells me is that I have been missing out on regularly checking in on myself. If you're anything like me, you might push yourself through feelings of tiredness, uneasiness, discomfort etc. until it just feels like you just cannot push yourself anymore. For me, this is a clear signal that I have missed something. I am sure that all therapists have had a client tell you that they have had an increase in their negative symptoms and then as you sit with them and listen to what has been going on in their life, you will say “Wow! I can see why you are not feeling so great and why your negative symptoms have increased!” The clients will not even realize it themselves, even though they are experiencing it directly. This is when, both with my clients and myself, I need to ask where time, energy, and effort are being spent. I need to create a budget if you will. I HATE budgets! Mainly because holding myself accountable is uncomfortable. I want to be able to spend both real money and emotional money the way I want when I want. But we all know this is unrealistic. A more realistic self-check in may consist of the following:
Giving enough time to recharging activity such as sleep, rest, and breaks
Enforcing much needed boundaries by asking for what you need and want
Refraining from filling your downtime with activities that only pour into others instead of yourself.
Self-check-ins can seem unnecessary, cheesy, or like one of those “easier said than done” things. However, I have worked with enough people to understand that if you refuse to check in on yourself, your body and mind have a very efficient way of forcing you to take notice. Things such as physical pain, fatigue, insomnia, GI issues, panic etc. are the mind and body’s signals that we need to notice and attend to. Our minds and bodies are very well equipped at preserving themselves. They work hard to stop you from pushing them to the point of their demise. Think of it this way, either you check-in on yourself and make the necessary adjustments or let your mind and body do it for you. Either way, self-check-ins will happen. You can choose the easier proactive way or the more reactive way.
I now understand that self-care requires sacrifice, and this is a new realization for me. Can it be warm and fuzzy? Yes, it can! But self-care at its foundation takes a concerted effort, discomfort, letting go, acceptance, and yes sacrifice. Once we begin to understand that self-care incorporates discomfort and embrace that as a sign of growth, maybe we can experience and practice real self-care and grow personally and as therapists!