Mental Health Bites

Self-care in the mental health profession (and beyond)

“Self-care” is a term used a lot in mental health and therapy; ithey are the words used to package the requirement to take care of one’s own needs.  At base level, those needs are for eating, sleeping and personal hygiene but they also go much further than this.

Self-care is about physical AND mental health, and each of us has individual requirements to keep ourselves in a healthy and emotionally safe place.  This means that self-care could be many different things to many people – but in general (and in addition to the above) it might include taking needed prescribed medication (and attending to any and all medical needs), managing a work/life balance, partaking in meaningful activities, socialising, having fun, taking time out and being restful, talking about your feelings (in or out of therapy), and the list goes on.

takeabreakSelf-care is especially important for those people with physical or mental health problems (or perhaps both) and for those people who have physically or emotionally challenging roles in their lives.  Many people “self-care” on automatic pilot, having learned to do so at an early age – but almost everyone could do with a bit more (and some people could do with a lot more) care.

Many people express feelings of guilt about taking care of their own needs and if you were a fly on the wall of my therapy room you would often hear me remind clients that sometimes it is important to put yourself first.  If you don’t look after your own needs, then how can you give your best to the world, to the people that need you and the people you love?

Yet a funny topic keeps popping up in online forums for therapists and that is self-care in the mental health profession!

As a Counsellor/Therapist – as you might be realising from the above – it is vital that I take care of my own needs – that I make my own wellbeing a priority.  Without this, I risk being a poor role model for the things I preach.  I wouldn’t trust a mechanic with my car if his or her own car was falling apart, so why would I expect a client to trust me if I didn’t tend to my own needs?

This does not mean that I always get it right; just as that mechanic’s car will break down occasionally so too will my figurative vehicle – but it is necessary that I use the knowledge I have to do the best job I can.  The Counselling field as a whole often recommends (and in some ways, enforces) a therapist’s need to self-care.  We are required to have Supervision, many training courses stipulate that trainees attend personal counselling, and we subscribe to a code of ethics that includes staying ‘fit to practice’.

So, I wonder then why I hear (or more often read online) of therapists feeling guilty for calling in sick?  We all get unwell; we’re human too!  Or perhaps I witness Counsellors’ worrying about taking a holiday (and thus leaving their clients without their session for a week or two).  Surely everyone deserves a break?  Perhaps this is especially so when you spend so much of your working life listening to emotionally charged ‘stuff’.

Personally, I talk to my clients at the start of therapy about what would happen if I were to be off work – that may be not to spread germs, because I’m physically not able, or because I simply need a break.  I remind my clients that they deserve the best of me, that I can only be available to them BECAUSE I take good care of my needs, and that I consider it part of my job to at least attempt to practice what I preach.

So occasionally I vanish from this blog (this month is a perfect example), take a few days off, stick an ‘out of office reply’ on my emails – or whatever it might be – and I take care of ME.

Today as it has been National Kindness Day.  I want to encourage you to be kind to YOURSELF – whoever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever your need.

One thought on “Self-care in the mental health profession (and beyond)

  1. Stella Neophytou

    Well said Kell. We do all need to take time out and recharge our batteries so to speak. It doesn’the matter what you do work wise it is important to have other things in your life. Fun, holidays, friends and family are important to a well balanced way of life.

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