#19 Self Care, not just a concept!
We all know that self care is an important part of best practice as a counsellor and supervisor, using all the lenses again this time, let's re-visit this idea in practice.
Good self care usually is associated with good personal and professional boundaries and even practice rules that we self impose. They are intended to keep us healthy, happy and safe by adhering to these practice rules. When we stop paying attention to them, or just start bending them a little or just this once for this situation, self care is often the casualty. We can so easily make an argument for why an exception is the right thing to do in these situations. While there may well be merit to this position, there is also merit to honouring your own self care protections. Dynamically when we are not practicing our own self care plan, we are doing something else, I might call it a kind of bargaining, to borrow from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's 5 stages of grieving, her bargaining stage is what comes to my mind, enroute to having to accept an inevitability. Is it inevitable, must we water down the effectiveness of a healthy boundary to let some other priority prevail, and whose priority is it? To make it clearer, may I offer an anology, imagine a flat service, lets say a mirror with no raised border or frame, and a number of marbles of 2 colours, red and green, with exactly the right number of marbles that would cover the mirror completley resting on that service. If you want to add one more green marble, representing more work, you must take away another one or they will all run off the surface. If you have created a balanced self care plan, determining how many green marbles you can have by counterbalancing them with your red self care marbles, keeping that in balance becomes a very precise self care equation. Maintaining this delicate balance can represent the self care dilemmas that we all face doing this work. How much can I add on the work side, the green marbles, without reducing the effectiveness of my red marbles on the self care side.
There are so many things that can occurr that could shift this balance without even noticing it. It is a constant in life that there are, and always will be, unforseen events that will upset the balance of our carefully constructed plans. So not having a plan is not good, but not knowing how to adjust your plan as issues arise is the real problem I see in self care dilemma in counselling. We can become distracted by so many 'also important events and processes', if we don't keep it as our priority, it can gradually diminish until it is no longer protecting us and we didn't even notice it was not working anymore. We all have probably experienced an increase in the pressures of the work and having to sometimes just push through it without adjusting our self care process to help us be able to restore our energy and perspective.
Self care is not an indulgence of the priveleged, although being in this profession is a position of prielege, it is in my view an occupational insurance plan that counters the occupational hazzards inherent in this kind of work. Most people in their working day do not sit immersed with people who are in immense pain of all types, feeling helpless and afraid of their future and unable to see a way forward through their personal crisis, hour after hour after hour, 5 days a week, but that is outr working environment. Like the airline cabin staff tell us, "if you are traveling with children, put your mask on first before your childs". Our clients may not be children, they all do need us to be able to be availble to be with them as they are struggling, self care is the oxygen mask.
So if adjusting is the hardest part for us, why is it so hard? For me it has to do with many things: not wanting to be faced with a reality of being limited in what I can do; I prefer the image that I will be able to help most of those who ask for help, yes of course within my scope of practice and available space, but I don't like the reality that I can only do what I am able to, I like being able to stretch and do more. What about you what are you up against when you feel these pressures?
This brings up other limiting factors like energy, personal resilience levels and how long it takes me to recover, and how that fluctuates from many factors, all of which can be counterbalanced with a good active self care plan. The adjustment process is largely about the movement of the marbles on the mirror, and at critical times, just stepping back from the mirror to re-evaluate all of the equations: physical health, family, age, and personal mental health thresholds are all part of this mix. What we could do 5 years ago may not be wise to try to keep doing this year as our thresholds may change. We can be our own best ally, or a demanding tyrant to ourselves, no matter what we decide we just have to live with the consequences of our decisions. The best news is, it not too late to revamp your plan and begin anew.
Here are some examples of adjustments that I am working with at age 73: working fewer days in a week; working fewer days in a row; working fewer hours in a day; having more time between sessions; scheduling walking or outside breaks into your day; enjoying some music as you take a meal break; finding differing kinds or work like teaching as well as client work; combining clients with similar issues into a focussed group format; picking working hours strategically based on your client population or family situations; mixing remote formats along with in-person formats; either expanding your scope of practice with new training, or reducing your scope of practice by concentrating your work into a niche; working with colleagues who align well with your work or compliment your skills to expand your areas of practice; find or create peer and professional consultation groups that support you in your goals; publish a blog or write a book; become that expert you have been searching for for so long; work smarter not harder; forgive yourself for deciding not to do something that you could do, but if you do, you will have no energy for other things that you also want to do. Add here any of your ideas, and then revise your plans and enjoy your experience more and have greater satisfaction.
As part of my taking my own advice here, I am not going to pressure myself to continue to create a blog a month,. I am going to offer a blog as it arrives in me. I hope this edition will be useful to you at some point. I don't know when my next one will be, but I invite you to check in and see what's perking for me, and see if it interests you. Counselling is an important part of my life, so is being around to enjoy the other parts of my life too, I hope you can do the same for yourself and your loved ones. Ciao, David