A Therapist Practices Necessary Self Care
It began as it always does, with a tickling cough, a raspy form of asthmatic breathing that would do Darth Vader proud, which is enhanced by a crackling sound that resembles rustling tissue paper. It is like a motley crew of musicians are performing a bizarre symphony that could have been whipped up by composer John Carpenter. Add to that the feeling that several wayward dwarfs: Sneezy, Achey, Drippy, Cranky, Whiny, and Pukey have been hi-ho-ing their way through my system and I am ensconced in jammies on a beautiful Spring day when I would much rather be cavorting outside enjoying the welcome thaw after a frigid and snowy winter.
Reluctantly, I canceled a teaching job and a day full of clients this week. I knew I wouldn’t be at my best with them and felt like Typhoid Mary with the cough progressing to alarmingly deep and bronchial. Rest assured that I generously spray Lysol in my office to prevent spread of nasty germs. Since I work with children as well as adults, the risk of infection is even greater.
I am not a novice in the field, having offered some form of counseling since 1979 and know all too well, the implications of burnout. It has a cumulative effect and in my case, it mirrors the definition (commonly held as well as alternative offered by a former client who was dealing with heroin addiction) of insanity.
- Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
- Knowing exactly what is going to happen and doing it any way.
In my case, it involved 10 or so hour work days during which I would see 6-8 clients five days a week, as well as writing and editing assignments and teaching occasionally in the morning and evening. Sneaking in 3-4 necessary gym workouts and I was once again setting myself up for taking a tumble. I justified my schedule by telling myself that at least it wasn’t as rigorous as it had been pre-heart attack in 2014. I also caught myself in being hypocritical since I am an unflinching advocate of scrupulous self- care with my clients. Healer, heal thyself, indeed.
Since Friday morning, I have slept more hours than usual, napping and then waking, tending to medication regimen, showering, changing pj’s and sheets, guzzling peppermint tea and seltzer, eating not a whole lot. One clear sign that I really do feel ill, is that, as it is both Passover and Easter weekend, I have not felt even the slightest urge to indulge of my drug of choice: chocolate.
As a Social Worker, I am compelled to follow the NASW Code of Ethics. These principles guide my steps as I engage in work with clients and their families, as well as co-workers and supervisors. Although it doesn’t specifically indicate that best practices call for R & R, hot tea and a day off under the covers, it is implied to prevent impairment on the job. Since my intention is always to be present for those I serve, it is essential that I follow the guidelines I set for myself and them. As I run down the checklist, it is gratifying to know that I:
- Take time for fitness
- Immerse in nature
- Enjoy the company of family and friends
- Refrain from substances (alcohol is something I consciously choose not to imbibe)
- Practice yoga
- Set boundaries, which is essential for this recovering Co-dependent.
- Sleep 7-8 hours a night
- Eat healthfully
- Avoid taking on the issues and emotions of clients
Ashley Davis Bush, author of Simple Self-Care for Therapists: Restorative Practices to Weave Through Your Workday shares that we, “need to keep our instrument, our presence, well cared for.” As therapists, we are called on to be in tune with our clients. I question how I can do that as well if I am tone deaf to my own basic needs. Although I could anticipate the outcome that I am facing now, I didn’t take action until I was in the throes of respiratory distress. My well-meaning friends and family have noticed for years my tendency to burn the candle at both ends until there was no more wax left.
From a body-mind integrative perspective, there are those, including the late Louise Hay who would describe respiratory issues as having a connection to ‘unresolved fear, depression and grief’. Her pioneering book You Can Heal Your Life was released more than three decades ago.