As a therapist, I talk about, think about and promote self care with all of my clients. It's on my mind much of the time as I know its importance. However, it wasn't always this way for me. That's why I am beginning this blog series on self care.
I first learned about the concept of self care when I worked in a Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Norfolk, Virginia. My wonderful supervisor, Kristen, taught me that self care would help survivors soothe themselves when trauma symptoms were triggered. I would ask callers to the hotline and clients in the office who were working to address the crisis after a traumatic experience, "What helps you when you are feeling upset? When you have been through tough times before this, what did you do to feel better?" Depending on which techniques had been effective for them in the past, they could use the same ones to soothe themselves or learn new ways to cope.
I was learning about self care for the first time. You just do what you do to cope, without really thinking about it, most of the time. We all do this and I was no different. I was taught some of the common self care strategies, and I had a list to use to help me make suggestions if clients were unable to think of any on their own. However, I didn't think much about my own self care strategies - in fact, for a while I didn't have any, at least none that I was really aware of. I had to learn that in the work of helping people I, too, was vulnerable to feeling the effects of secondary traumatic stress through hearing traumatic stories on a daily basis.
Kristen, the supervisor I mentioned, had to tell me once to take a few days off when I began to exhibit the signs of secondary traumatic stress. It was difficult for me to agree to take a few days off - I think I was afraid the world would end if I wasn't there to save it. I can laugh about that now, but it didn't feel nice at the time. I was very idealistic then, and the time off gave me a chance to take care of myself so I could come back refreshed and ready to help again. If I had kept going the way I was, I would have begun to feel like a robot, just going through the motions without emotional connection. Not only is that an unethical way to practice, it is in total contrast to the values which guide my work with clients as well as the way I want to live my life.
Helping professionals may experience this at one time or another. I chose to become a helping professional (first as an advocate and crisis counselor and later as a therapist) because I care about people, and over the past 13 years I have heard many stories. I have heard and witnessed many amazing examples of strength, resiliency and transformation as well as pain and struggle, and I am honored and grateful to bear witness with my clients! Each person has touched my heart and changed me in some way. Therapy with survivors of trauma is my passion and I want to remain healthy and well for many years to continue doing this work, which is so important to me. Self care is also crucial if you are parenting, caregiving, or if you're someone who thinks about what makes others happy more than you think about what makes you happy.
This post is the first in a series about self care. I'm going to go in depth to share my journey from thinking self care means getting a massage or a pedicure a couple of times per year to understanding that self care is a daily practice which is essential for health and well-being. The series will include quotes from other therapists and resources you can use to develop your own self care practice. I will try new things and share with you what I've learned. I'll also share what works for me now.
I invite you to join me in cultivating self care. Let's start by sharing self care strategies you have found helpful. I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
If you don't even know where to begin - believe me, I've been there - contact me to talk about how therapy can help you believe that you deserve to put yourself first. You can reach me at (443) 510-1048 for a phone consult.