Psychotherapists and counselors are in the field of helping people: they are people who want to make a difference in the world. They give and give and give. What seems to be a common theme for many psychotherapists is that they often forget to give to themselves. They are easily put last on their list for receiving care.
There was a time when I was working with a lot of clients who had been sexually abused in their childhood. The stories that I was hearing on a daily basis were horrific. I found that by the end of the day I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to hear the news, I didn’t want to hear what my friends problems were, and I eventually was projecting that every man was an abuser. It was clear that I wasn’t taking care of myself because my job was impacting how I felt about myself, how I felt about men, and how I interacted or didn’t interact in the world.
What became important was getting support, reaching out for help. I eventually did some EMDR Therapy around how I was feeling, and I was quickly able to get back to my old self. What I discovered was that in order to do the work I felt so passionate about, I needed to have better self-care. I needed more consultation on my cases so I had a safe place to share my concerns, frustrations, and my anger that could easily build while working with this population. Not only did I need more support but I needed to have a plan of how to go through my day so that these bad feelings didn’t accumulate and contaminate my work, my home, my relationships and my world view.
I started sharing my experiences and what I have seen in working with therapists as their consultant in EMDR Therapy with Katie Asmus. She too, felt that this topic was very important and from these discussions we ended up creating a training called “Self Care for Therapists.” We find that this is one of our favorite trainings to teach since we get to see therapists put themselves first and gain some insight and skills on how to better take care of themselves.
In discussing this training with other therapists, what we often hear is “I don’t need this training… I would much rather have a training that gives me more skills to work with my clients.” The mindset is that if “I just have one more tool, one more technique, then I will be a more successful therapist.”
What seems to be lacking is the awareness of how much therapists give all day long and how little they have time to give to themselves. It’s just like when you are on an airplane and the flight attendant says, “Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others with theirs.” If you don’t give yourself a moment to breathe and to take care of yourself, then what will you have left to offer your clients?
During one of our “Self Care for Therapists” training sessions, a therapist came in and said “I’m burned out and I’m thinking about not being a therapists anymore… my supervisor thinks I need to be here.”…. and the supervisor was right. This therapist had given so much that his gas tank was on empty. He was angry, resentful, hurt, and just wanted to run away. By the end of the training, he cried and said “I need to take care of myself… I want to be a therapist… I love being a therapist… I now think I can do this if I just slow down and take care of myself.”
This was a powerful moment of recognizing how little he was giving to himself and how much he really needed to be able to face his work and feel like he had the energy to enjoy it again.
Basic self-care is important like getting enough sleep, eating good food, exercise, getting massages, yoga, meditating, etc. But what is also important as a therapist is to have a daily ritual of what to do when you get into the office, what to do before, during and after sessions, so that you can keep yourself in balance.
In the “Self Care for Therapists” training we offer a weekend for therapists to give time to themselves, and not just to their clients. Each moment is a time to reflect on what is working and what is not working for their self-care routine. Developing a self-care plan that can be put into action immediately is the goal of this training. Therapists have said that this training was one of the best things they have done for themselves in a long time. Investing in one’s own well being is worth it!
Image Source: “Compassionate hands: taking care of our heart” by Enver Rahmanov via Wikimedia Commons (CC)