TO THINE OWN SELF BE KIND: Taking Time to Practice Self-Care

I came awake suddenly on New Year’s morning, instantly noticing the time. It was 12:20 a.m., and, for the first time in many years, I had missed the ball dropping at midnight in Times Square. I was disappointed in myself – especially since recently I had been sleeping more than usual. My friends had been reminding me about my hectic schedule over the last semester, and the fact that my body might be telling me that I needed to slow down. I knew they were right, but there was so much to do, and I was determined to get it done. But, as I lay there that morning, I realized how tired I truly was, and how little time I had allocated to self-care.

Practicing self-care is vital. For counselors who are regularly inundated with their clients’ sufferings and painful experiences, it is even more important. An effective self-care regimen lets counselors replenish their sense of well-being, allowing them to be more effective with clients. Counselor self-care provides a win-win situation for both clinicians and the clients they serve. There are many suggestions for self-care techniques, but the best one is that which gives you pleasure, and a sense of rejuvenation. In “The Resilient Clinician,” Dr. Robert J. Wicks writes about solitude, silence, and mindfulness, as means of replenishing the self. These are effective self-care techniques. Can you think of others you can incorporate in your lives?

For some clinicians, the practice of self-care is scheduled into their day. It might be a bubble bath before bed or a bike ride before dinner. Whatever you choose, make it a priority and not just something you do if time permits. You can even add to your regimen on occasion by doing something spontaneous in between client sessions, e.g. deep breathing, stretching, or simple Qigong exercises or breathing techniques. Self-care also includes the basic health activities of regular medical and dental visits, healthy eating, and daily exercise. Some counselors find it helpful to belong to a social support group, or may retain a therapist who they see on a regular basis. There is no limit to activities, as long as they are geared to caring for your mind, body and soul.

Those of us who do not practice self-care can become overwhelmed. We might find ourselves becoming reactive or overly emotional. This is disadvantageous to our clients, as well as to ourselves. As we begin a new year, let us resolve to take care of ourselves. It might be getting more productive sleep, or losing weight, or finding time for solitude, all of which I plan to do. What about you? What will you do? Whatever you decide, make it something enjoyable, sustainable, and beneficial, and begin it right away. Your body will thank you, your mind and soul will thank you, and you will be more focused and motivated in your work with clients.