A Different Way to View Self-Care
As a mental health clinician, you understand the importance of self-care in your professional life. Self-care is not just a responsibility you have to yourself, but also an ethical responsibility you have to your clients and to our profession. Many of us have experienced the ill-effects of a lack of self-care, such as burnout.
Were you to do a google search on self-care, you’d likely find such common examples as meditation, improving physical health, taking walks, and taking time off. These methods of self-care can be very useful. But at times these methods may cease to work or not work as effectively as they once did. If this were to occur, what would you do? Providing an answer to this question involves widening the lens through which you view self-care.
It is important to view self-care as an act of prevention. Self-care can be proactive rather than reactive to the inevitable stresses of your work in the mental health field. To do this, assume that burnout and/or compassion fatigue is always lurking around the corner, waiting to haunt you if you do not engage in self-care daily. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Coleman, Martensen, and Scott (2016) discussed the importance of mindfulness in self care. They support the use of mindfulness to increase self-compassion, which then leads to a greater willingness to consistently engage in self-care activities.
Baker and Gabriel (2021) identified the people around us as an effective source of self-care. Clinicians under supervision (whether graduate student or working toward licensure) can devote a portion of their supervision to process where they are in regard to self-care. An experienced clinician can help them to strengthen the self-care muscles that will be needed throughout their career. For those clinicians not under supervision, consultation, whether formal or informal, can also be an effective form of ongoing self-care. Supervision, consultation, or a daily chat with a colleague can help you develop a deeper understanding of your warning signs of burnout.
An overlooked dimension of self-care focuses on the purpose of your work. Making meaning out of the work you do is self-care (Gall and Posluns, 2019). Meaningful work is a form of self-care as the meaning and energy we derive from it can keep you going as a clinician. Think back to what originally led you to a career in mental health. Remembering this can reawaken that sense of purpose in what you do and help prevent burnout.
There is something special within you that led you to this field. A lack of self-care should not rob you of the joy you have in your work with clients. Make self-care an intentional part of your day, even if it requires an unconventional approach. Continue to fulfill the responsibility you have to your clients, the profession, and to yourself; just remember to intentionally practice self-care as you do it. To learn more about the ethics of self-care while earning continuing education credit, checkout the webinar Secondary Trauma and Burnout: Considerations for the Client and the Clinician
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