Have you ever wondered how your therapist maintains their own mental well being in general, let alone during a pandemic?
This is the first time in modern American history that care providers are living through the same trauma as their patients. I know a lot of my own clients have expressed concern for me during this time. Although appreciated, I always direct the conversation back to them. The session is always the patient’s time and we respect that. However, it does not mean that we don’t use our own coping skills as well.
Any therapist who plans on staying in the field knows they must attend to their own needs. In fact, many training programs actively encourage their students to attend their own therapy. I know I did when I was in graduate school. I found it really useful to understand my own issues and triggers. Many of us also utilize the same tools we encourage you to integrate into your life. Exercise, meditation, boundary setting are just a few examples.
Personally, I am religious about daily meditation and exercise. Sometimes, I can only fit in a two minute meditation but I do it daily. I find it helps me keep perspective and be less reactive. I also love exercise. I don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough so I may do ten minutes of yoga or a brief walk. When time allows, I do longer HIIT workouts.
I was curious what coping skills my colleagues use.
Shannon Heers, therapist and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Colorado, says:
“I set strict boundaries on my time when working from home. When I’m working, I’m fully working, even if I don’t have any appointments I’m doing follow-up stuff, business practice related stuff, etc.. When I’m not in my “working hours” I do laundry, organize the house, play with my kids, and make meals. I don’t try to multi-task working with home life.”
She is definitely on to something. Women have been sold this story that we are experts at multitasking. However, the truth is that we are no better than men at it. In fact, multitasking ultimately just saps your creativity and brain power.
Furthermore, as therapists, our work is our passion. We want to show up as our authentic best. We are also human beings with our own emotional needs and family demands.
To that end, Jessica Tappana, a therapist and practice owner of Aspire Counseling in Missouri writes:
“The biggest thing I’ve done to “refill my well” is to learn to draw more boundaries myself. I’ve chosen to see fewer clients because I’m able to focus more and hold more intensity when I have fewer clients. I’ve changed my work hours to better meet the needs of my family right now and been open with that reason. I’ve taken time off when needed and in the past year I’ve finally started doing a better job of not checking my email when I do take time off.”
Engage in a Hobby
Pursuing something new is a great coping skill. Whether it’s in the arts or a physical endeavor, it accesses different parts of us mentally and emotionally. More importantly, it gives us a sense of mastery when we feel powerless. There are so many insurmountable issues right now. People enter the helping professions because they want to help. However, there are no simple solutions for the issues we are grappling with today. I write this as war rages in Ukraine. Having something that you can master is a great way of soothing the soul. I am a particular fan of hobbies that have an actual endpoint or tangible thing you create. I, alone, can not solve social justice issues but I can knit a scarf.
Amber Joyce, a single mom, therapist, and owner of True You Counseling in Florida, has a well intentioned menu of self care activities. Among them is swimming.
Amber says: “About 9 mo ago I got back into swimming for fun, the challenge, and the competition. I enjoy this as frequently as my schedule allows. It is a place where I can escape the world. As I do underwaters, looking up at the sky through the water is a truly unique experience.”
Amber is not only gaining a sense of mastery, with swimming. She is having a novel sensory experience with it.
Small Daily Treats
Ms Joyce also pulls from a variety of activities and things big and small to refill her well.
“I also enjoy time at the beach even if it is just for a little while taking my kids or meeting friends there for a sunrise, reading or surfing. Just the smell of the beach brings instant relaxation. “
We may not all have access to the beach. However, I love going to my local urban park and walking around, watching the birds. There is a surprising variety and amount there!
The most important thing is to integrate these coping skills into your life. Amber continues with:
“Daily, I do things like spend a little time outside, enjoy good food, and use a salt lamp. I enjoy essential oils and spend time with my kids and cat. All these things are simple things that create positive experiences for me.”
I really like these ideas. Personally, the idea of “self care” was just too overwhelming for me while homeschooling my kids, running a practice, and seeing patients. However, sitting down at night and petting my cat while I watched TV was enjoyable. I always had my salt lamp running on the days I supervised our kindergarten pod. Last but not least, I was sure to savor my morning coffee before the chaos of the day ensued.
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