by Rachel Eddins M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
The Houston LPC Association recently offered the ethics workshop, “Self-Care as an Ethical Mandate in Counseling” presented by Rebecca Rucker, MA, LPC-S, LMFT. This topic seemed very appropriate for our Self-Care for the Caregiver column. In the workshop, Rebecca discussed the topic of therapist wellness and therapist self-care as not only essential to the best practice of therapy, but required by the codes and regulations that govern the helping professions. This article, though not comprehensive, outlines many of the points Rebecca highlighted in her outstanding presentation.
The history of addressing self-care for the helping professional began with addressing impaired practitioners. Early reports of impairment began with our dear friend, Sigmund Freud, in 1884. In 1973, the American Medical Association formally recognized physician impairment as a serious problem. In 1979 the National Association of Social Workers first acknowledged impaired practitioners, focusing primarily on alcohol and drug dependency. In 1984, the focus was expanded to include emotional distress as well. In 1988, the American Psychological Association issued a manual entitled, “Assisting Impaired Psychologists” to aid in intervention for psychologists in crisis. In 1991, the American Counseling Association created a task force on impaired counselors and estimated that at least ten percent of helping professionals were impaired (6,000 ACA members!).
It is first interesting to note that the history of the ethical practice of self-care in the helping professions is rather new. Though it began as an effort to identify “impaired professionals” with a focus on alcohol and drug dependency, it now includes emotional distress as well. Our ethical guidelines encourage professionals to be aware of our own physical, mental, or emotional problems.
Though physical and emotional impairment certainly reduces the ability to properly care for clients, self-care is an essential best practice for helping professionals. There are many positive aspects to helping others, but there can be some downsides as well. These can be measured by the Professional Quality of Life: Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Subscales III (B. Hudnall Stamm, 1995-2002) inventory. The three areas measured include: compassion satisfaction, burnout, and compassion fatigue/secondary trauma.
Compassion fatigue is about the pleasure you derive from being able to do your work well. Burnout is associated with feelings of hopelessness and difficulties in dealing with work or doing your job effectively. Compassion fatigue/secondary trauma is about your work-related, secondary exposure to extremely stressful events, i.e., repeatedly hearing stories about the traumatic things that happen to other people. Self-care includes monitoring these aspects of your professional life and seeking remedies and resources as appropriate. Consultation and nurturing relationships with others can be very beneficial as well as mindfulness practices and work-life balance.
How can we promote our own overall wellness as helping professionals? Questions we must ask of ourselves:
- How often do we seek out our own therapy?
- What creates stress in our life and how do we manage that?
- How often do we care for our self physically, and in what ways?
- How do we care for our self emotionally?
- How often do we connect with friends outside the therapist community?
- How often do we connect with colleagues for support and consultation?
- How do we seek out spiritual connections?
- How do we balance and take breaks throughout the day?
Care of others begins with care of the self. This important lecture reminded all of us that doing so is not a luxury; self-care is ethically required of all of us.
Invitation for Members to Contribute to the Caring for Ourselves: Our Own “Caring for the Caregiver” Corner Feature column of the newsletter
HGPS members are invited to share the many varied and unique ways that they, as individuals, find helpful, nurturing, and supportive in their own self care journeys. We all have much to learn from each other. We invite your input and hope you will considering contributing your story to the newsletter.
Please send your contributions to Donna Nance at [email protected].