As providers we use ourselves as tools. Keeping those tools in good condition can be challenging when managing busy caseloads, keeping up with paperwork, trainings, and other various demands of the job. Before one of our Pathways clinicians became a mental health provider, she primarily taught Yoga. In yoga training, instructors are trained to think of themselves as conduits (or tool) for healing, allowing energy and teachings to flow through them.
As a mental health practitioner, she finds it beneficial to apply these yoga principles because it helps her separate herself from the work when appropriate. A tool can be put away when not in use, it is not part of us or within us, we are in control and have choice of how and when to use it. For her, this is a key understanding for workplace self-care hygiene. The practitioner as tool mentality sets up a mental boundary as to when the work begins and ends. It makes space for us to do difficult work with children and families facing complex trauma and later engage with our loved ones when we get home without our thoughts and heart still being tied up in the work.
The term self-care hygiene is meaningful for minimizing burnout because it suggests that it’s a daily preventive practice. All too often we don’t give our needs attention until there is an outstanding problem.
All service providers are vulnerable to vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue. Vicarious trauma is a process of change resulting from empathetic engagement with trauma survivors. Anyone who engages empathetically with survivors of traumatic incidents, or material relating to their trauma, is potentially affected, including doctors and other health professionals. Compassion Fatigue refers to the way that employees who directly assist people with trauma may develop their own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of empathizing with clients.
The first step in managing vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue is to identify it when it is happening (please see below for a list of common symptoms). The second step; minimize stigma!! Burnout is a common and normal response to abnormal circumstances. In-line with the practitioner as tool mentality, it can be expected that the tools need some maintenance and upkeep to perform the job effectively. Take up space, give workplace challenges airtime in psychologically safe environments. Share experiences with your supervisors, talk about it in consult groups and enlist the support of your colleagues. Talking about the burnout can help us get the support we need and encourage others to do the same.
Finally, action to mitigate stigma around burnout is through Rest! The glorification of overworking and normalizing unhealthy levels of stress is pervasive throughout workplace culture. Rest is Resistance! Build helpful breaks into the workday to do something restorative (that does not involve a cell phone). Step out into nature, feed yourself something healthy, enjoy a leisurely walk, plan time off. Self-care hygiene can include finding a mindfulness practice; try yoga, meditation, or walks in nature. I am grateful to share in this work of being a healing tool to serve our community. Our community is better served when we prioritize the maintenance of these important tools.
Have your own tips for self-care hygiene? Please share in the comments below!
- experiencing lingering feelings of anger, rage and sadness about client’s victimization
- becoming overly involved emotionally with the client
- experiencing bystander guilt, shame, feelings of self-doubt
- being preoccupied with thoughts of clients outside of the work situation
- over identification with the client (having horror and rescue fantasies)
- loss of hope, pessimism, cynicism
- distancing, numbing, detachment, cutting clients off, staying busy; avoiding listening to client's story of traumatic experiences
- difficulty in maintaining professional boundaries with the client, such as overextending self (trying to do more than is in the role to help the client)