In my practice, I see a lot of helpers including therapists, caregivers, first responders, and medical professionals. As a group, we are the people our clients and patients turn to during the worst times of their lives. But, we’re people too — we have good days, bad days, and difficult times. We all know we need to practice self-care before helping others but engaging in our work is a practical aspect of life that often can’t be put on pause.
How can we help others when we find ourselves needing help too?
Increase your awareness.
Learn to recognize when you’re drained and need to step back. It’s easy to acknowledge that we need to take care of ourselves to be effective, but it’s not always easy to actually follow through with self-care. For some of us, it can be difficult to discern between needing to step back from our work and having a rough patch we can persevere through. We all have our own signs and signals that tell us when we are beyond our capacity to work effectively. Building self-awareness so that we can notice these signs and signals before we get to the point of burnout is crucial.
The more we can temper the pace of our work and connect deeply to ourselves, the better our connection will be with the client.
Reconnect to your body.
Use your inner wisdom as a guide. As helpers, it is important to use our own felt experiences to tell us what we need. We often justify pushing ourselves, stretching our limits, and crossing our own boundaries in service of our clients. In reality, it is important to acknowledge that we’re not always the best fit for a certain clinical situation. Acknowledging and acting on what feels right for us and what doesn’t is often the best way to honour the people we serve.
Know the difference between what you are afraid to do and what you shouldn’t do.
Are you afraid to get consultation on that new intervention you’ve learned? Or run a decision by a trusted mentor? By raising our awareness and knowing ourselves, we can differentiate between what is helpful fear that should be heeded as our own advice, and what is a limiting belief that is getting in the way of building more competence and confidence. It’s important to acknowledge that many of us in the helping profession deal with “imposter syndrome.” Don’t let that get in the way of deeper learning, practice, and growth.
If you need help with something that’s come up in your life or practice, talk about it with a trusted supervisor, consultant, or mentor. This can help you reaffirm your decision and provide you with some useful feedback. Remember, we don’t need to have all the answers – it’s okay to reach out for support professionally as well as personally. Consultation can also help us differentiate between what we don’t feel equipped to do and what type of work simply isn’t for us. Some things are outside of our scope of practice for professional reasons and others are outside of our scope for personal ones. Having a trusted mentor to help you navigate how this can impact your scope of practice can be a validating and freeing experience.
Use self-disclosure sparingly and appropriately.
When a personal life event interferes with our ability to be fully present and connected with the people we serve, communicate your decision while providing only helpful amounts of self-disclosure. It’s important for us to assess each therapeutic relationship individually for rapport and use our best judgement about what is helpful to the client. Be careful about self-disclosing to ease your own struggles or feel more connected to your client. Disclosing in these scenarios may be more about you than it is about them.
We all know we need to practice self-care before helping others but engaging in our work is a practical aspect of life that often can’t be put on pause.
Sometimes when we are burning out, we are trying to do too many things and push our own agendas. The more we can temper the pace of our work and connect deeply to ourselves, the better our connection will be with the client. You can do this by slowing your speech, your breathing, and your gestures. Allow for moments of silence. Engage the client in landing in their chair and being present for the session. If mindfulness-based tools are already part of your practice, engage them more frequently and honestly. When you invite your client to practice deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or grounding techniques in session, take the opportunity to practice along with them.
Take time to manage your stressors.
Whether this means taking a few days off or scheduling a few more breaks throughout your day, it’s important to deal with what is causing you distress. If you are navigating an ongoing concern like grief or a difficult family dynamic, it is even more important to follow the steps mentioned above.
Seek therapeutic support or counselling.
As helpers, we are in a difficult role. We don’t have all the answers and we don’t have to. However, we do need to know we are making the best clinical decisions we can and working with integrity. Reaching out for therapeutic support can help us ease the stressors and reconnect to our own inner wisdom, clinical judgement, and skills.
As helpers, self-care is a crucial aspect of our work. And part of that self-care is engaging in work that brings us meaning and purpose. Learning how to navigate our role in a healthy and helpful way is a process. After all, we are human – we don’t have to be perfect or have it all figured out. However, we do have a responsibility to ourselves and our clients to be actively engaged in the journey.
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