Sass Boucher is a counsellor and psychotherapist registered with the BACP, working in private practice. She discusses how the act of self-care can be an antidote to working in stressful and traumatic roles.
As lawyers working with clients going through tough times, and potentially those who have experienced trauma, you often have to listen to clients living through family break down, or the fear and terror they are experiencing within their own homes through physical violence and abuse.
Burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary trauma and vicarious trauma are all concepts describing the potential impact that listening to clients’ stories can have. Whilst listening carefully to clients’ difficulties and pain, you may take this pain on board, attempt to process it, and sometimes stories and cases can stick with you for a long time.
Self-care can buffer the impact that listening to clients’ stories may have on you whilst attempting to remain as resilient and as physically and emotionally healthy as you can. If you don’t look after yourself will you be able to work efficiently for your clients and act as effectively and competently as you would like to?
My study on the experience of professionals working with trauma and fatigue on a daily basis showed that although professionals were aware of the concept of Self-care, in reality, it was tricky to practice and not encouraged in the work place. Those that did practice self-care regularly found it easier to maintain boundaries, access support and sustain their general health and wellbeing.
The idea of looking after ourselves is looked down upon. Prioritising our own needs is seen as being ‘selfish’, ‘self-centred’ or ‘indulgent’. Yet, how are we to support and actively take part in life if we have literally broken down or been worn down by ignoring our own essential care requirements?
In theory, self-care is a balance of taking care of yourself whilst taking care of others. Seemingly simple, but what is it and how do you make it work?
I define self-care as achieving your full potential by choosing actions to balance your physical and emotional health. This has three elements.
Self-care will be different for each of us. Just as we have different values, beliefs, skills, political opinions and out of work activities, we also have different ideal ways to look after ourselves. Smart self-care, small self-care or 60-second self-care are tiny ways to implement your chosen activities, or avoid those which you have chosen not to do, an equally valid choice.
It is worth reflecting on what you already do, but haven’t recognised as self-care, for example, reading, gardening, regularly enjoying a sport or drinking a ritualistic cup of coffee before you start your day. Take self-care moments where you can and truly enjoy them.
Practice self-care regularly effectively to enhance your mental health and wellbeing toolkit. A basic self-care plan on paper, in a journal or a spreadsheet can help with organisation and motivation, but don’t go to the point of obsession. If you are trying to make yourself stick to an overly timetabled, stressful and complicated self-care programme you are probably missing the point.
Sass Boucher is a BACP registered counsellor and psychotherapist working in private practice. Her MSc research focussed on how professionals experience working with clients living with or leaving domestic abuse and it has been presented at national academic research conferences.
Sass is also an experienced trainer and visiting tutor who regularly writes and blogs about how professionals can start to care for themselves via self-care, as an antidote to working in highly stressful and traumatic roles.