Building Rocking Chairs: Practicing Self Care

Flickr photo courtesy of Leu Gardens

It was Thursday afternoon at 4:30 and I was finished with my full day of appointments. As I locked my office, my colleague noticed I was leaving and said, “You look exhausted.” His observation couldn’t have been more true. I’d scheduled 7 sessions for that Thursday, with a scant 30 minute lunch break. One day of this schedule isn’t so tough, but it was my fourth such day in a row.

I have much to learn at practicing self care, just ask my wife. She’ll lament about how I will come home after a full day and appear as though I’ve lost my way in life. This has cumulatively gotten worse for me as my practice has gotten busier and busier through the years.

If we’re honest, I think most therapists in private practice would say there is stress because there aren’t enough clients, or because there are too many. Rarely do we operate in a normal week-in, week-out schedule that allows for predictability and comfort. That’s not to say that these seasons don’t happen every now and then, but owning a practice exposes us to different levels of stress than working in as a contract or agency clinician. The rewards are greater, but so are the risks. Self care is a term thrown around a lot, but is so hard to practice.

With that said, I want to share three habits that I’ve seen have a profound impact on my personal resourcefulness (and as I write these, I realize that I need to begin putting these into place again).

1. Doing my own work. To ask a client to face known issues in their life when I am not willing to face my own issues is problematic. Luke wrote about this last week, and I agree with him. So many of my own issues get stirred up in my work with others that if I don’t take time to look at them, I’m not practicing what I teach. The seasons that I have been in my own therapy has not only made me a better therapist, but it’s had a noticeable effect on the burdens I carry with my job.

2. Exercising. First off let me be honest here. Hi, my name is Samuel and I hate to exercise. I’m more sedentary by nature, but the idea of going and expending energy just for the sake of expending energy has never really made sense to me. However, I know that it helps my stress levels. Spending 30 minutes walking, running, or another form of cardio exercise helps to counterbalance the significant number of hours I spend on my derrière (which studies show is not healthy – read here).

3. Writing, creating, or doing something tangible. For my birthday my wife bought me a rocking chair for our front porch. It’s pretty raw and rough wood. She intentionally gave it to me unfinished to invite me into working on a tangible project (which is therapeutic for me). Much of our work as counselors is abstract, and we don’t really get to see the true impact of the work we do. Find something that you can create: Write a story, paint a painting, make a woodworking project, or anything else in the concrete (non-abstract) world.

Self care is costly (time, money, energy, etc), but not doing it can be devastating. There are plenty of other forms of self care than what I’ve listed above, so do what uniquely expresses care for you. But the bottom line is to do something. This will help you to avoid burnout, be a better friend and spouse, and will ultimately make your work as a therapist deeper and richer.

image courtesy of Leu Garden via Flickr

Posted in Client Care, Self Care / Therapists and tagged , , , , .